Rice- Iran is running out of time

Thursday, February 10, 2005

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put Iran and Europe on notice Wednesday that their negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program cannot go on forever.

Nearing the end of a fence-mending tour of European allies, Rice said the United States had set no deadline on the Iran talks, but she also said the Bush administration had not changed its view that the United Nations should step in to get tougher on Iran.

In Washington, President Bush said the Iranians needed to know that the free world was working together to send a clear message: Don't develop a nuclear weapon.

"And the reason we're sending that message is because Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a very destabilizing force in the world," Bush said.

"I think the message is there," Rice said at a news conference at NATO headquarters. "The Iranians need to get that message," she said, adding that Tehran should know that "there are other steps" the international community can take.

Iran says its program is for nuclear power, not weapons. In Tehran, President Mohammad Khatami said Wednesday that no Iranian government would ever abandon the progress the country has made in developing peaceful nuclear technology.

The comment did not augur well for negotiations with three European countries that are trying to persuade Iran to cease permanently the enrichment of uranium and have promised economic and technological aid in return. Khatami said that if the talks with Britain, France and Germany fail, his government will not be bound by its undertaking to suspend enrichment.

"If other parties are not committed to their promises, we will not be committed to our promises at all," Khatami told a meeting of foreign diplomats.

The Bush administration has long viewed the European process as futile and thinks Iran is stalling.

"They need to hear that the discussions that they are in with the Europeans are not going to be a kind of weigh station where they are allowed to continue their activities, that there's going to be an end to this and that they are going to end up in the Security Council," Rice said earlier Wednesday.

Those remarks, in an interview with Fox News, also urged Britain, France and Germany to put pressure on Iran. Rice has spoken in tough terms about Iran during this trip, but had been careful to leave any criticism of the Europeans unsaid.

"Iranians need to hear that if they are unwilling to take the deal, really, that the Europeans are giving ... then the Security Council referral looms," she said. "I don't know that anyone has said that as clearly as they should to the Iranians."

Asked at Wednesday's news conference how long the diplomatic efforts should continue, Rice replied, "We've set no deadline, no timeline. The Iranians know what they need to do."

Over the past week, Rice visited Britain, France and Germany, the three countries talking to Iran. The United States has kept the European diplomacy at arm's length, and Rice's remarks Wednesday underscored that the United States and the Europeans still did not see eye to eye.

The three European countries are reluctant to take the matter to the United Nations before making further efforts at negotiation.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier used a news conference with Rice Tuesday night in Paris to repeat that France and the other European participants wanted to let diplomacy run its course.

"We believe this political and diplomatic work with which we are committed is by far the best way," Barnier said. "We need the confidence and the support of the United States in this very delicate phase ... and that's ... the message we conveyed to Condi Rice."

Rice did not directly respond during the joint news conference, instead putting the onus on Iran to comply with international compacts governing civilian and military nuclear programs. She also thanked the three nations for their efforts.

Iran has been a topic for most of Rice's meetings with European politicians. European governments have generally maintained closer ties to Iran in the more than two decades since an Islamic government took power.

Some Europeans suspect that the United States intends to attack Iran during Bush's second term. Rice said at the start of her trip, in London, that an attack is "not on the agenda" now.

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