Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Monday said the world must not tolerate any Iranian attempt to develop a nuclear weapon. She spoke as European foreign ministers prepared for new talks with Iranian officials on the nuclear issue.
The Bush administration has supported the European overture with Iran, backing the effort by Britain, France, and Germany with U.S. incentives to Iran to shelve suspect nuclear activities.
But as the so-called Euro 3 prepared for a key meeting Wednesday with Iranian officials in Geneva, Ms. Rice took a hard line towards Iran, telling the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC that a nuclear-armed Iran would be intolerable.
"The United States has focused the world's attention on Iran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction," she said. "And along with our allies we are working to gain full disclosure of Iran's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. The world must not tolerate any Iranian attempt to develop a nuclear weapon, nor can it tolerate Iran's effort to subvert democratic governments through terrorism."
The European initiative with Iran, which began two years ago, has reached a critical juncture, with Iran threatening to re-start uranium enrichment activity, which it suspended under an agreement last November.
The European Union is offering Iran a free-trade accord and new economic aid if it fully discloses its nuclear intentions, while the Bush administration has said it would, among other things, drop its opposition to Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organization in the context of an agreement.
While Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, the Bush administration has long maintained it has a covert weapons component.
In her address to AIPAC, Ms. Rice said the pursuit of democracy is now a central element of Bush administration policy in the Middle East, and said even what she termed the unelected leaders in Tehran must recognize the region is changing.
She said they must know that the energy of reform that is building around them will one day inspire Iranians to demand their liberty and rights, and said the United States stands with the people of Iran.
The AIPAC meeting is to be addressed Tuesday by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is due to at the White House for talks Thursday.
Ms. Rice called the Sharon plan for Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank due to begin in August an unprecedented and incredibly delicate opportunity to advance Middle East peace. She said all parties need to work together to, as she put it, capitalize on this precious moment.
"Israel must take no actions that prejudice a final settlement or jeopardize the true viability of the Palestinian state, and Israel must help to create the conditions for the emergence of that democratic state," added Ms. Rice. "The Palestinian Authority must advance democratic reform and it must dismantle all terrorist networks in its society."
Ms. Rice said Arab countries must end anti-Israel incitement in their media, cut off all support for terrorism and extremist education, and establish normal relations with the Jewish state.