Rice Moves To Allay European Fears Of Iran Strike
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, seeking to allay European fears of a preemptive US strike on Iran's nuclear sites, said Friday an attack "is simply not on the agenda at this point".
Rice made her remarks in London at the start of a tour of Europe where concern has been expressed that the hardening US rhetoric against Iran could herald military action to knock out its nuclear capabilities.
"The question is simply not on the agenda at this point," Rice told a news conference after talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
"We have diplomatic means to do this," she said, citing the possibility of action by the UN Security Council among them. "We have many diplomatic tools still at our disposal and we intend to pursue them fully."
Britain, Germany and France are engaged in halting efforts to persuade Iran to renounce any nuclear weapons ambitions and have eschewed the use of force against the Islamic Republic.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had what he called "extensive discussions" with Rice on Iran and said later the Europeans would do "everything and anything to come to a diplomatic and political solution."
Some Europeans have voiced complaints the United States was keeping its distance from the negotiations but Straw insisted the world community was united in its determination to rein in Iran's nuclear activities.
"Absolutely fundamental to the international consensus has been the support we have received in the IAEA (the UN's Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency) board and in many other ways from the United States, he said.
"It's been a joint diplomatic effort, albeit three countries are directly involved in the negotiations."
Washington has ratcheted up its rhetoric against Iran in recent days, with Rice using unusually strong language Thursday to rap Tehran's human rights record as "something to be loathed".
Although Rice has side-stepped questions whether the United States supported outright regime change in Tehran, a senior State Department official signaled a more aggressive US tone in support of pro-democracy elements in Iran.
"The president and the secretary have made it more explicit that we support the aspirations of the Iranian people to control their own government," said the official, who asked to he said.
Straw and Schroeder had little trouble with the tough US comments and rejected any suggestion that they could compromise efforts to negotiate with Tehran.
"I would be astonished if Secretary Rice had not had strong feelings about the human rights record of the Iranian regime because that is shared by us," Britain's top diplomat said.
He said that, while there had been some improvements in Tehran under Iranian reformers, "that has now gone backwards and therefore is a matter of profound concern."
Schroeder told a joint news conference with Rice in Berlin that US President George W. Bush's "heart is where it should be" on democracy in Iran and "I couldn't agree more."
"I don't believe at all that there will be any weakening effect on the ongoing EU three negotiations," he said.
The question of Iran has so far overshadowed the announced purposes of Rice's tour to prepare for Bush's own fence-mending trip to Europe later this month and promote US policies in Iraq and the Middle East.
But Schroeder, who staunchly opposed the Iraq war, offered more help from Germany in the rebuilding of Iraq's institutions and the training of security forces following landmark elections there last weekend.
"I have declared Germany's readiness to not just continue these projects but, if desired, to also expand on them," Schroeder told reporters.
On another subject, Straw sought to mollify the United States over EU plans to lift a 15-year-old arms embargo on China. The minister pledged to consider Washington's "justifiable anxieties" over the move.
Straw also appeared to seek accommodation on where to try suspected war criminals in Sudan's western region of Darfur, where some 70,000 people have died in fighting pitting rebels against Khartoum and its militia allies.
The United Nations has suggested using the International Criminal Court based in The Hague but Washington is pressing to create a special UN tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania.
"All of us know that the natural authority of the international community is greatly strengthened where there is a consensus behind a Security Council decision, and that's what we shall be working to achieve," Straw said.
Rice was to leave Saturday for Poland on the third leg of her trip, which will also take her to Turkey, Israel, the West Bank, Italy, France, Belgium and Luxembourg.
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