UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan encouraged the US to hold direct talks with Iran and expressed hope that an agreement can be reached to settle the nuclear dispute with Tehran peacefully.
The UN chief called for intensified diplomatic efforts to press the Iranians to suspend uranium enrichment while putting something on the table for Tehran, possibly technology or security assurances.
"And I think it would also be good if the US were to be at the table with the Europeans, the Iranians, the Russians, to try and work this out," Annan said in an interview Thursday on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS television.
The secretary-general spoke as the UN Security Council started discussing a Western-backed resolution that would make mandatory an earlier council demand that Iran stop uranium enrichment or face the threat of "further measures" if necessary to ensure compliance.
Annan was asked whether it would it be a good idea, as some people have suggested, that the US get directly involved in the talks with Iran.
"I think it would be a good idea because the Iranians give you the impression that ... whatever they discuss with the Europeans had to be checked with the US and come back," he said.
While pledging to let diplomacy run its course, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she did not see the need for direct talks now between Washington and Tehran, as favored by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator Richard Lugar, and other lawmakers.
Britain, France and Germany have been leading negotiations to try to get Iran to give up its enrichment program, but Tehran has refused and is pressing ahead, insisting it is legally entitled to produce nuclear energy for electricity under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The three European nations, backed by the US, want the program stopped because they believe Iran's real goal is to use the enriched uranium to produce nuclear weapons.
Iran said this week it is now enriching uranium to 4.8 percent, the level required for fueling nuclear power reactors. That level is far below the enrichment of more than 90 percent that is required for making nuclear weapons.
"Let me say that the Iranians, in my judgment, hyped up their achievements quite considerably, because what they have achieved is the very beginning. It's almost laboratory stuff, but they have blown it up for the sake of their own population," Annan told PBS.
"Obviously, what everyone is concerned is that they go for a nuclear weapon," he said.
Annan said that's why he has urged Iran to demonstrate to the world "in a very transparent confident way" that it has no intention of building nuclear weapons by opening its doors and allowing intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"I think if everybody -- all of the stakeholders and the key players -- were round the table, I think it would be possible to work out a package that would satisfy the concerns of everybody," the secretary-general said.
Annan said he hopes that violence can be avoided.
"I think it would be a real tragedy if we were to resort to violence in this situation," Annan said.
He said the situation in the Middle East "is very fragile," and all the major issues -- Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict -- have to be tackled carefully "to make sure that it doesn't have a domino effect and exacerbate all the other situations."