U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan encouraged the United States to hold direct talks with Iran and expressed hope that an agreement can be reached to settle the nuclear dispute with Tehran without resorting to violence.

The U.N. 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 that nobody is going to blow up their nuclear facilities.

"It would also be good if the U.S. 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.

"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 U.S. and come back," he added.

The secretary-general spoke as the U.N. 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."

While pledging to let diplomacy run its course, 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 Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, 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 U.S., 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.