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Rice Urges European Firmness on Nuclear Talks with Iran

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed European diplomats to take a tough line with Tehran in talks on Iran's nuclear program. She said Iran should be aware that a referral of the issue to the U.N. Security Council is looming, if it does not fully disclose its nuclear activities.

The Bush administration has publicly supported a diplomatic effort by Britain, France and Germany to get Iran make a full disclosure of a nuclear program the United States has long maintained has a covert weapons component.

But U.S. officials have privately expressed impatience with the talks and suggested that Iran might be using them to indefinitely put off a showdown on the issue. It has figured in talks in all the European countries Ms. Rice has visited on her current foreign trip, her first as secretary of state.

It surfaced again Thursday in remarks by the Secretary in an interview with the Fox News television network in which she suggested that the Europeans were not getting the message through to Iran about the urgency of settling the matter.

At a subsequent news conference in Brussels after meeting NATO foreign ministers, Ms. Rice did not fault the Europeans, but said Iran would be well-advised to accept the incentives being offered by Europe to open up its nuclear program to full inspection. She said that otherwise, the prospect looms that the matter could be referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

“We and the Europeans talk all the time about the importance of sending a strong message to the Iranians that they are being given an opportunity to demonstrate that they are prepared to live up to those obligations,” said Ms. Rice. “So I think the message is there. The Iranians need to get that message. And we can certainly always remind them that are other steps that the international community has at its disposal should they not be prepared to live up to these obligations.”

Ms. Rice said the United States has set no deadline, no timeline for the Europeans to complete their talks with Iran and that she believes a settlement is within reach, if there is unity of purpose and message.

Earlier on her week-long trip, she said that while President Bush was foreclosing no option in dealing with the nuclear issue, though military action against Iran was not on the agenda at this time.

On a visit to Japan, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi reiterated that his country had nothing to hide from the International Atomic Energy Agency, and that all its nuclear activities are peaceful.

President Mohamad Khatami meanwhile said in Tehran that his country is being subjected to psychological warfare by those threatening it with attack, an implicit reference to recent U.S. comments.

He warned that Iran might reverse interim commitments it has made to the Europeans including a freeze on uranium enrichment.