A rather mundane noon briefing at UN headquarters on May 17 livened up when reporters started grilling Martin Nesirky, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, on the uranium-swap deal agreed over the weekend in Tehran between Iran, Brazil, and Turkey.
Journalists were not so much interested in the details -- which had already been broadly covered in the media -- as in how Ban Ki-moon felt about the deal, in which two members of the UN Security Council made separate arrangements on a sensitive topic behind the backs of their colleagues.
Nesirky found himself in hot water. The matter is tricky and, in a sense, treacherous.
On the one hand, Ban has always said he'd welcome any move that brought Iran in line with International Atomic Energy Agency demands that it fully disclose the nature of its uranium-enrichment program, which Western powers strongly suspect is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
On the other hand, the initiative by Brazil and Turkey, aimed at finding a compromise solution to avoid a new round of economic sanctions against Iran, has been far from unanimously welcomed. The United States, the European Union, and even Russia, which has traditionally been skeptical about the efficacy of new sanctions, expressed serious doubts about the viability of the May 16 Tehran agreement.
So, is the secretary-general happy over the Brazil-Iran-Turkey deal?
Judging by his spokesman's response, Ban would rather keep mum on the subject. Nesirky pretty much deflected all inquiries to the president of the Security Council. Reporters tried to angle the question this way and that way, but Nesirky, a seasoned UN pro, wouldn’t budge.
And what about Brazil and Turkey's permanent representatives at the UN? Would they comment? Nesirky: "You should ask them."
Finally, under pressure, Nesirky said he'd relay the media's interest in speaking to them.
-- Nikola Krastev
* The original version of this item misquoted Martin Nesirsky as agreeing to invite both ambassadors to participate in some of the regular noon briefings this week.