Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday the United States will pause in its drive for U.N. Security Council action against Iran. The break would allow European negotiators to prepare new incentives aimed at persuading Iran to halt uranium enrichment.
U.S. officials had earlier spoken of the likelihood of getting a U.N. Security Council resolution as early as this week demanding that Iran halt enrichment and return to nuclear negotiations.
But with Russia and China resisting Security Council action, the Bush administration is giving its blessing to a new attempt by Britain, France and Germany to get Iran to change its nuclear course with a fresh package of incentives.
Secretary of State Rice, who discussed the Iranian issue with foreign ministers of major world powers in New York earlier this week, made the rounds of television network morning shows Wednesday to signal U.S. support for the new overture by the so-called EU-Three.
Rice insisted there would eventually be strong action against Iran in the Security Council, but she said on the ABC network's Good Morning America program the United States is willing to allow time for the European effort:
"We will continue to seek a Security Council resolution, but that we would wait for a couple of weeks while the Europeans design an offer to the Iranians that would make clear that they have a choice that would allow them to have a civil nuclear program, if that is indeed what they want," said Rice.
Iran, after more than two years of negotiations with the Europeans, last August formally turned down an offer of economic and other incentives for it to halt sensitive nuclear activities, and accept outside enrichment of fuel for its civil nuclear program.
The Bush administration had backed that offer with incentives of its own, including ending U.S. opposition to Iran's application for membership in the World Trade Organization.
The United States, which insists Iran has a covert nuclear weapons program, has been pressing for a binding Security Council resolution against Iran under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter.
But the effort was stalled this week by Russia and China, who say they fear such a resolution could be a prelude to sanctions and possible military action.
In her television appearances, Secretary Rice again said the letter to President Bush this week by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not a serious attempt to address issues between Iran and the West.
The Bush administration and Rice in particular have come under criticism from Iranian officials and others for dismissing the letter, described by U.S. officials as a collection of musings and observations by the Iranian leader.
Rice told the NBC Today Show the letter had no useful ideas on the nuclear issue:
"That's not a serious diplomatic overture to say that by the way your liberal democratic system is cratering. It really was kind of a philosophical and indeed religious attack on U.S. policy," she said. "So there was nothing in it that suggested a way out of the nuclear stalemate."
Rice said that had the Ahmadinejad letter been a serious diplomatic overture, the U.S. response would have been quite different. But in her words, "we can't play a pretend game."