RIO DE JANEIRO – RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The U.N. secretary-general called Thursday for Iranian leaders to make it clear to the international community that their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Ban also praised a compromise brokered by Brazil and Turkey that that calls for Iran to deposit 1,200 kilograms of lightly enriched uranium in Turkey. In exchange, Iran would get 120 kilograms of nuclear reactor fuel.
"If this deal is followed up with a broader engagement of the IAEA and the international community, it can be a positive step to a negotiated settlement," Ban said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency. He was opening a U.N. conference in Rio de Janeiro aimed at finding solutions to global conflicts.
Iran insists its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, but the West fears it is geared toward nuclear weapons.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the swap deal last week. Both leaders are against imposing more sanctions on Iran. The deal, however, was dismissed by the U.S., which is pushing for tougher international sanctions on Iran, arguing that the compromise fails to rule out weapons development.
Ban said a negotiated settlement would be best, but he said "at the heart of this crisis there seems to be a serious lack of trust and confidence on Iran."
"I have been repeatedly urging the Iranian authorities that they have to clear that their nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes and it is not meant for military purposes," Ban said. "They should fully comply with the Security Council resolutions."
Ban said that it is important to have "confidence-building measures" like the Brazil-Turkey deal.
"With confidence-building, I hope the solution will be balanced," Ban said.
The swap deal would commit Iran to shipping 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for storage abroad in Turkey. In exchange, Iran would get fuel rods made from 20-percent enriched uranium; that level of enrichment is high enough for use in research reactors but too low for nuclear weapons.
The United States announced after the Turkey-Brazil deal was made public that it had won agreement from the other permanent members of the Security Council — Russia, China, Britain and France — as well as Germany on a draft resolution that would hit Iran with a fourth round of penalties for refusing to completely halt uranium enrichment.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has rejected the Iranian offer as a "transparent ploy" to try to avoid new sanctions. She said that despite the offer, Iran is insisting on continuing to enrich uranium at a high level.
On Thursday in Washington, Clinton said that the Obama administration has a "very serious" disagreement with Brazil's approach to Iran. She said the nuclear fuel swap would only buy time for Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions and undercut the international community's ability to present a united front against Iran.
Clinton said the U.S. view — not shared by Brazil — is that Iran will agree to negotiate over the nuclear program only after the U.N. Security Council imposes tough new sanctions.
Silva and Erdogan, who is in Brazil for the U.N. conference, touted their fuel swap deal at a joint news conference in Brasilia as a rare opportunity to promote cooperation — and repeated that they do not consider it a solution to the Iranian question, but rather a start.
"It does not resolve all the problems at once, but does establish conditions for dialogue as the most efficient path to surpass divergences and build confidence around the peaceful purposes of Iran's nuclear program," Silva said.
The Brazilian leader challenged other nations to "to clearly say if they want to construct the possibility of peace or construct the possibility of conflict. Turkey and Brazil are for peace."
A U.N.-drafted plan put forward in October called for Iran to send the majority of its low-enriched uranium abroad for further processing into fuel rods to be returned to it for use in a research reactor.
The U.S. sought that plan as a way to ensure Iran, at least temporarily, did not have enough low-enriched uranium to be further processed into a nuclear warhead.
But Tehran balked for months over the terms of the plan.
The deal it reached with Turkey and Brazil contains many similar provisions. However, since October, Iran has accumulated enough low-enriched uranium to still build a warhead even if it sends the amount under the deal abroad, making the accord less attractive to the West.
Associated Press writers Bradley Brooks in Rio de Janeiro and Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.