U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he believes Iran is prepared to engage in serious negotiations regarding its controversial nuclear program. The secretary-general met with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan calls his talk with the Iranian foreign minister very useful. He says he believes Iran is seriously considering the offer of negotiations on its nuclear plans made by the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.

The United States and European Union accuse Iran of wanting to develop nuclear weapons. Teheran denies this, and says its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.

The secretary-general says he told the foreign minister it was up to Iran to convince the world of this by fully cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He says the minister told him his country will come to the negotiating table, without pre-conditions, and that everything can be discussed at the table.

"That I presume includes the question of [uranium] enrichment, and they are considering the package very, very seriously, and, I think we have all heard the comments they have made, and I do believe they are considering it seriously," he said. "On the question of the U.S. involvement, I think we saw a major shift in U.S. policy when it indicated that it would be prepared to join the talks, once the issue of the enrichment, or suspension thereof, was resolved."

Mr. Annan says he hopes the United States will join the Iran nuclear talks. He says he asked Iran for a quick response to the offer of negotiations, but does not expect one until after the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg early next month.

Iran's president says his country will not make a decision until August.

On another matter, Secretary General Annan says the United Nations is watching the situation in Sudan's Darfur region very closely. He says the peace agreement remains very tenuous and incomplete, since two of the rebel movements have not accepted it.

He says he strongly believes a United Nations peacekeeping force will be needed to help the parties implement the peace agreement, and help provide security for the internally displaced.

"Although we have not yet got agreement from the Sudanese authorities, and I think you all heard President Bashir's statement rejecting a U.N. force," added Mr. Annan. "But let me say that the talks continue, and I hope, ultimately, we will be able to convince them to accept a U.N. force. No one, and least of all the U.N., is interested in imposing anything like a colonial rule on one of its member states, and, of course, that was one of the fears President Bashir used in rejecting the U.N. presence."

Several-thousand poorly equipped, under-financed troops from the African Union are guarding the peace in Darfur. Secretary General Annan says the AU peacekeepers need to be strengthened. He says, he hopes a pledging conference in Brussels next month will provide the necessary support for the AU troops on the ground in Darfur.