Interview with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "It's Iran's Turn to Make a Move"

Can the world community stop the spread of nuclear weapons? SPIEGEL spoke with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the North Korean compromise, the Iranian threat, and where Germany fits in.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is optimistic about North Korea. Less so about Iran.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is optimistic about North Korea. Less so about Iran.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Secretary-General, the dispute on the Iranian nuclear program is coming to a head. What can the United Nations do to prevent a military escalation of the conflict?

Ban: In December, the UN Security Council set serious conditions for Tehran and imposed initial sanctions. Now it's extremely important that the Iranian government fully meet the obligations formulated in the resolution. There is still political leeway for solving the conflict through negotiations. Therefore the talks must not lose momentum. The EU, led by Germany, plays an important role in this. And even if the dialogue has currently reached something of a dead end, I trust the Iranian leadership will use the leeway.

SPIEGEL: Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad surprisingly signalled he would like to discuss suspending uranium enrichment. Do you think the offer is a credible one?

Ban: He simultaneously linked the proposal to the condition that all Western nuclear nations also cease their enrichment programs. I don't know what he aims to achieve. For now, it is Iran's turn to make a move, instead of imposing its own new conditions.

SPIEGEL: You've been in office for eight weeks. You've already taken a clear stance on the nuclear conflict with North Korea, but you've held back on Iran. What is the difference between the two countries?

Ban: North Korea has seriously committed itself to negotiations, and its agreement in January with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States is a major step forward. We've left the stage of lofty declarations behind and agreed on binding practical steps. North Korea has clearly committed to eventually dismantling all nuclear facilities and programs. In return, economic support, especially energy and oil, was promised as well as security guarantees and the prospect of normalized diplomatic relations with the Unites States and Japan.

So far, things look very different in the case of Iran. And the consequences for peace, security and stability in the entire region are much more threatening.

SPIEGEL: In contrast to Iran, Washington showed a willingness to negotiate with North Korea.

Ban: It's important to maintain a dialogue with Iran. Now the European Union has to take the lead politically and move the negotiations forward. But it's not the case that the United States rejects or refuses talks. The Americans have practically always been present at the negotiating table.

SPIEGEL: At the Munich Security Conference, Iran's lead negotiator Ali Larijani introduced the notion of limiting enrichment to uranium not suitable for nuclear weapons. Can that be seen as a compromise?

Ban: The freedom of a country to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes does not come without conditions. Among those conditions are a credible commitment to peaceful usage, compliance with international agreements and the verifiability of all technical details by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran must first allow inspectors into the country and open all nuclear facilities and programs to inspection before the international community will be convinced of its peaceful intentions.

SPIEGEL: You're obviously optimistic about the chances for an agreement with North Korea, but not for one with Iran?

Ban: I'm not sure whether I can be truly optimistic, but there is a very encouraging development in North Korea. Now the agreements and commitments have to be implemented. The international community should actively support this process.

SPIEGEL: What do you expect from the German government?

Ban: I need the cooperation and support of all member countries. But Germany has to play a leading role in international conflicts and new challenges, not just as the UN's third most important financial contributor but especially because of its current EU presidency G8 presidency.

SPIEGEL: In 2005, when you were still South Korean Foreign Minister, you rejected Germany's wish for a permanent seat on the Security Council. Where do you stand now?

Ban: As UN Secretary General, I have to be objective and reserved. Above all it is important that the Security Council is expanded and reflects the dramatic changes in international power relations. The only question is when and how. I want to try to promote a reform of the Security Council as transparently and democratically as possible.

Interview conducted by Manfred Ertel and Gerhard Spörl


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