AP: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday he is "very optimistic" about President Barack Obama's swift engagement on key international issues and encouraged the United States to start talking to Iran to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program as soon as possible.
The Associated Press
By EDITH M. LEDERER
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday he is "very optimistic" about President Barack Obama's swift engagement on key international issues and encouraged the United States to start talking to Iran to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program as soon as possible.
In a wide-ranging press conference, Ban also praised Obama's "very swift and decisive" choice of special envoys to focus on two key international issues, the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan.
Ban was asked about Obama's willingness to engage Iran and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement that his country is ready for talks with the U.S. if there is mutual respect between the longtime adversaries.
"I would encourage all the parties concerned to Iranian issues, including the United States, to engage in dialogue to resolve this issue as soon as possible," the secretary-general said.
The U.S. believes Iran is secretly trying to pursue nuclear weapons, but Iran has denied this accusation, saying its program is solely for peaceful purposes such as electricity.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday the U.S. remains opposed to Iran's getting nuclear weapons but said the Obama administration hopes the two nations can work out "a better understanding of one another."
The secretary-general also called for negotiations to tackle climate change to be completed by the end of the year. He said he was consulting key countries about bringing their leaders together in the next few months, saying their "direct involvement" will be crucial.
Ban downplayed press reports that Obama might come to the U.N. for a summit on climate change, possibly in March, saying the president was busy dealing with the financial crisis.
Ban said Obama called him three days after his Jan. 20 inauguration and told him the United States would be a strong partner of the United Nations.
Elsewhere, Ban expressed concern about the plight of ordinary people in Gaza, whose population of 1.4 million is still not getting sufficient U.N. aid after the three-week Israeli ground and air offensive ended last month.
"It is critical that we consolidate the cease-fire (in Gaza), promote Palestinian unity and revive the peace process," Ban said.
The secretary-general announced that he was establishing a U.N. board of inquiry into incidents involving death and damage to U.N. premises in Gaza during the war. He said it will report to him within a month.
Associated Press writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.