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Rice Discusses Iran with Russian Counterpart


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is stepping up efforts for a U.N. Security Council statement calling on Iran to end uranium enrichment and return to negotiations on its nuclear program. She spoke to her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov Friday and will go to Europe next week for talks dominated by the Iranian issue.

The five permanent members of the Security Council have been deadlocked for two weeks on the wording of a statement demanding that Iran live up to its international nuclear commitments.

But the secretary sounded optimistic after her phone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, saying they had instructed their negotiators in New York to work through the weekend if necessary to come up with an acceptable draft.

With U.S. backing, Britain and France have proposed a draft president's statement in the Security Council understood to give Iran a two-week deadline to end enrichment activity or face possible punitive action.

Diplomats say Russia and China oppose threatening Iran with sanctions, arguing that it might be counterproductive to nuclear diplomacy.

At a joint press appearance with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez, Rice did not discuss terms of the proposed statement but said she and her Russian counterpart had a good conversation, and are pressing their U.N. negotiators to come up with a mutually acceptable document.

"We agreed to ask our negotiators to work again over the next couple of days, really deciding that maybe they won't even have a weekend, because we need to work on this text," said Ms. Rice. "And we've taken into account, or the EU-Three have taken into account, comments from the Russians and Chinese, as well as comments from the United States. And I think they will turn a new draft. And at that point we hope that our negotiators can go back and see if we can agree on a draft."

The secretary said there was no disagreement among the major powers that Iran needs to abide by the February 4 resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that calls on Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing and return to negotiations.

She said it is very important, as a first order of business, that the Security Council put its weight behind the IAEA resolution to send a very clear message to Tehran that its terms need to be met.

U.S. officials see the president's statement as a first step in a diplomatic process at the Security Council that could lead to sanctions if Iran is not cooperative.

Aides to the secretary of State confirmed Friday she will visit Germany, France and Britain in a diplomatic mission beginning next Wednesday that is likely to be dominated by the Iranian nuclear issue.

The three European countries negotiated with Iran for more than two years for an accord under which Tehran would end suspect nuclear activities in exchange for trade benefits and other incentives.

The talks broke down, with Iran announcing early this year it was ending a moratorium on enrichment work. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, though the United States says it has a secret weapons component.

On a related issue, Secretary Rice said she is quite certain that Iran and the United States will hold talks on issues relating to Iraq at an appropriate time.

The Iranian government said earlier this month it had accepted in principle a long-standing U.S. offer to have talks, limited to Iraqi security issues, with the American ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad.

Rice said that with the two countries having overlapping interests in Iraq and with U.S. forces positioned near Iran's border, it is important that they be able to discuss their concerns and avoid miscommunication or misinformation.

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since 1979, but officials of the two sides have had occasional meetings on issues of mutual concern, including discussions on Afghanistan when Ambassador Khalilzad was the U.S. envoy in Kabul.

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