Annan to press Iran over Lebanon ceasefire, nuclear dispute

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan began talks Saturday pressing Iran over two major issues to help ensure a halt in weapons shipments to Tehran's Lebanese ally Hezbollah and to compromise in its nuclear confrontation with the West.

His visit to Tehran comes two days after Iran failed to meet a U.N. deadline for suspending its enrichment of uranium, paving the way to possible sanctions against the Islamic republic, which the West fears is seeking to develop atomic weapons.

But Europe is launching a last-ditch attempt at negotiations with Tehran this week, and Annan said in a newspaper interview before arriving that he hoped for a diplomatic solution that would "avoid another conflict in a region already subjected to a great stress at this moment."

Asked about indications that the United States wants to move to sanctions, Annan told the French daily Le Monde, "I do not believe that sanctions are the solution to all problems."

"There are moments when a bit of patience produces lots of effects. I think that is a quality we must exercise more often," he said in the interview, published Saturday.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will hold talks early next week with the top Iranian nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.

Annan was also to urge Iranian leaders to help in the implementation of the shaky U.N.-sponsored cease-fire in Lebanon. He told Le Monde he wants Iran to work with the international community, using its influence so Hezbollah can be disarmed in accordance with the U.N. cease-fire resolution.

"I am very happy to be here in Tehran, to discuss implementation of resolution 1701, which deals with the situation in Lebanon. I will also expect to discuss issues of concern in this region to the international community," Annan told reporters after his arrival.

Annan, who is on a tour of the crisis-wracked Middle East, started by meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. He was expected to meet Larijani later Saturday and hold talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the next morning, reports AP.

But Annan likely faces an uphill battle on both issues. Just ahead of Annan's arrival, Ahmadinejad vowed Saturday his country would forge ahead with its nuclear program despite U.S. pressure, state-run television reported.