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Rice Says U.S. at Early Stage of Diplomacy with Iran (REUTERS) By Saul Hudson WASHINGTON 02/01/05 08:53 PM ET)Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=7505855 Reuters News Service Reuters News Service Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday the United States has not run out of patience with diplomatic efforts to end Iran´s suspected nuclear arms program, despite tough talk from other U.S. officials.

The U.S. diplomatic playbook included waiting to see whether European talks with Iran end the crisis, a fall-back option of reporting Iran to the U.N. Security Council and working with partners such as Russia to delay its programs, she said.

"For a variety of reasons we are fairly early in the diplomacy," Rice said in an interview with two news agencies ahead of a trip this week to Europe.

Her remarks came after President Bush last month refused to rule out a military strike, and Vice President Dick Cheney said Iran was at the top of the world´s trouble spots. Cheney also warned that the region´s biggest U.S. ally, Israel, could hit Iran´s facilities.

That tough talk caused a stir in Europe, whose diplomats have questioned whether the comments were part of psychological pressure on Iran or a precursor to military action.

A skeptical Bush administration has rebuffed European pleas to join their talks. But Rice applauded Britain, Germany and France for negotiating Iran´s freeze of uranium enrichment activities, which can help make bombs or generate power.

"The Europeans have embarked on an effort that we greatly appreciate," said Rice, who travels to Europe as part of a U.S. strategy to repair ties frayed over the Iraq war.

"We hope for the best. But the Iranians have not demonstrated over time that they have been particularly good about living up to their international obligations," she added.

She also said Russia´s decision, which came after U.S. pressure, to delay delivering fuel for a nuclear reactor had hindered Iran´s ability to develop weapons.

Iran denies U.S. charges it is pursuing a nuclear bomb and says its programs are only for peaceful power generation needed to keep up with its growing population.

Rice´s patience is no surprise, despite the Bush administration´s headline-grabbing rhetoric, said Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The administration has bet Iran´s rulers are too unpopular to remain in power long, Clawson said. "There is an optimism within the administration that the Iran nuclear problem can be managed until such time as this Iranian regime falls apart," he said.

Still, Washington generally takes a harder line than the Europeans and wants Iran, which Bush grouped in an "axis of evil" with North Korea and pre-war Iraq, reported to the Security Council for possible international sanctions.

U.S. officials say that would increase pressure on Iran and push council members China and Russia to curtail arms and energy deals, respectively, which Washington believes could boost the Islamic republic´s nuclear capability.

Despite the differences in tactics, Rice stressed the shared U.S.- European goal of making Iran give up its suspected nuclear arms programs.

"The Iranians are being told across the board that they cannot be responsible members of the international community and seek nuclear weapons under cover a of a civilian nuclear program," she said. "That´s not acceptable." (© Reuters 2005 02/01/05)

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