TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - The U.N. chief jolted his Iranian hosts for a nonaligned nations meeting Wednesday by pointing out "serious concerns" in Tehran's human rights record and urging cooperation with the world body to improve freedoms.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had signaled he would not shy away from criticism of Iran during his visit to the Nonaligned Movement gathering in Tehran, but the sharp comments appeared to catch Iranian officials off guard just hours after his arrival.
"We have discussed how United Nations can work together with Iran to improve the human rights situation in Iran. We have our serious concerns on the human rights abuses and violations in this country," he told a news conference as he sat next to Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, who frowned at the remarks.
Iran's opposition groups had urged Ban to use his appearance in Tehran as a platform to criticize Iran's ruling system over its crackdowns on political dissent, including the house arrests of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi.
While in Tehran, Ban also could raise sensitive issues such as demands by U.N. nuclear inspectors for wider access to various sites, including a military base near Tehran suspected of being a proving ground for explosives experiments that could be used to test nuclear triggers. Iran denies it seeks nuclear arms, but Western nations and allies fear Tehran's uranium enrichment labs are moving close to warhead-grade material.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said in his talks, Ban expressed frustration that "little tangible progress" has been made in talks between Iran and world powers over Tehran's nuclear program. No date has been set to resume negotiations after several rounds over the past months.
Iran says it wants talks to continue, but also claims the current gathering in Tehran shows that Western efforts to isolate Iran have failed.