UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday he hoped Iran's deal to send some of its enriched uranium abroad may open the door to a negotiated settlement in a row with the West over its nuclear programme.
In the text of a speech delivered in Istanbul, Ban said the deal Iran reached on Monday with Turkey and Brazil, both non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, was "an important initiative in resolving international tensions over Iran's nuclear programme by peaceful means. "I have mentioned Turkey's welcome role with respect to Iran, working with Brazil. We hope that this and other initiatives may open the door to a negotiated settlement," Ban said.
But he said the International Atomic Energy Agency, which brokered the basis of the deal last October only to see it unravel when Iran raised a raft of objections, would provide its own professional assessment.
The United States handed the UN Security Council a draft resolution on Tuesday that would expand UN sanctions, hitting Iran's banking and other industries over Iran's protracted refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
Iran dismissed the draft resolution as lacking legitimacy but US President Barack Obama has insisted Washington would press ahead and that Tehran could not be trusted.
The Islamic Republic denies Western suspicions that its secretive atomic energy programme is aimed at developing nuclear weapons capability and has said it will continue enriching uranium for fuel for electricity generation.
The draft resolution was agreed to by all five permanent Security Council members -- which include Britain, France, Russia and China -- after months of negotiation.
Ban's spokesman had said on Monday the nuclear fuel talks shepherded by Turkey and Brazil were "encouraging" but that Tehran must comply with Security Council resolutions.
On Friday, Ban's speech was full of praise for Turkey's diplomatic efforts. "Turkey has earned the right to speak out, forcefully, on issues of global importance. Let your voice be heard, loud and clear," he said.
Turkey has been a strong opponent of plans to impose further international sanctions on Iran, saying Iran has shown the political will to solve the seven-year-old nuclear standoff.
Ban was to hold talks with top Turkish officials while in Istanbul and was scheduled to attend a reconstruction conference on Somalia on Saturday.