Annan hopes South Korea to take greater role in international affairs

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday expressed hope for stronger relations between the United Nations and South Korea and urged Seoul to play a greater role in international affairs. "This special relationship has served as well," Annan said after meeting with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in the capital. "I hope as we move into the future we are going to deepen even further our relationship. We expect you to play a greater role in international affairs."

Annan's visit comes as the South's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon seeks to replace him as the head of United Nations. Annan's second five-year term ends on Dec. 31. On Monday, Annan urged all parties to stalled six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program to resume them, saying human rights and other topics should not be allowed to block the discussions.

"The nuclear issue is by far the most important and should be given a separate category and priority as compared with human rights and other activities," Annan told reporters after meeting Ban. The talks have been stalled since November because of a dispute between the North and the United States about financial sanctions imposed by Washington for alleged illegal activities by the communist country, such as counterfeiting.

The North has refused to rejoin the talks, which also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea, until the United States lifts the sanctions. Washington says North Korea should return to the talks without conditions, and has tried to increase pressure on the North by citing its poor human rights record.

"I would urge the parties to the six-party talks not to slow their efforts but to persevere and press ahead strategically to get everybody back to the table to continue discussion," Annan said. The world's top diplomat said also urged Iran to work with European countries to settle the dispute about the Middle East country's nuclear plans.

"Until recently we were focused on North Korea. Today we also have Iran," Annan said. "The international community has to take very urgent steps to deal with these issues." The comments came as Washington seeks support for a tough resolution in the U.N. Security Council to declare Iran a threat to world peace and subject it to sanctions or even military action.

European Union nations are trying to persuade Iran to accept international oversight of its civilian nuclear program to make sure it is not used to produce weapons. Tehran has repeatedly asserted its nuclear program is aimed at generating power. South Korea was Annan's first stop on a visit to several Asian countries for meetings with top officials. He was due to travel to Japan on Tuesday, before visiting China and Vietnam, reports the AP.

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