U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday singled out the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs as situations that "continue to cause acute international concern." He called for Iran and North Korea to return to international negotiations to resolve the issues.
In a speech at Tokyo University, and later at a news conference, Mr. Annan said Iran needs to engage in face-to-face negotiations with the international community, and North Korea must return to stalled six-nation talks - calling those approaches the only way forward.
"It is serious, it is a crisis in the sense that we need to work very actively and be creative in finding a solution at the table," he said.
Japan, along with the United States, South Korea, China and Russia, has called on North Korea to give up nuclear weapons it says it already possesses. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, but the United States and the European Union suspect that Tehran intends to build nuclear weapons as well.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday rejected the latest EU proposal for resolving the dispute. Despite repeated rejections from Tehran, Mr. Annan says a resolution from the U.N. Security Council condemning Iran is not imminent.
"I do not think the Council is going to pass a resolution this week or next," he said. "There are discussions that are going on amongst the countries. And everyone is conscious that this is urgent, that this is important, and has to be handled carefully."
North Korea has engaged in on-again, off-again talks on its nuclear programs. Last September, Pyongyang agreed in principle to dismantle those programs in exchange for international aid and security guarantees, but there have been no follow-up sessions to discuss implementation of that agreement.
Mr. Annan also addressed the issue of Japan's frayed relations with its two neighbors, China and South Korea. Both have repeatedly protested visits by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to a controversial Shinto shrine to Japan's war dead, where convicted war criminals are among those honored.
The U.N. leader met with Mr. Koizumi and other government officials Wednesday in Tokyo. He says those meetings and discussions with government officials in South Korea gave him the impression that Tokyo and Seoul are making important gestures to resolve their differences.
Mr. Annan says similar moves are required by Beijing and Tokyo if their dispute is to be settled.
"There have to be gestures, bold, generous gestures, to settle issues and move forward," he said.
When pressed for details on specifically what Beijing and Tokyo should do, he said the parties "know each other very well," and also know what needs to be done to improve relations.