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Rice: Iran May Pose Number One Challenge to US


The Bush administration is stressing international unity in the days leading up to a United Nations Security Council meeting on Iran's nuclear ambitions, and says it expects the U.N. to send a strong signal to Tehran.

In appearances on Capitol Hill and briefings at the White House, top officials are stressing their desire to resolve the dispute by diplomatic means. At the same time, they warn a nuclear armed Iran would pose a great threat to its neighbors and the United States.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Iran may be the number one challenge facing America. She says based on its current behavior, Tehran is giving the world plenty of reason for concern. She cites Iran's support for terrorism, and the belligerent statements of its leaders.

"If you can take that and multiply it by several hundred you can imagine Iran with a nuclear weapon and the threat they would then pose to that region," said Ms. Rice.

During an appearance before a congressional committee, Rice said Iran wants to make the issue into a fight between Tehran and Washington. But she said the international community is standing as one as it deals with Iran's nuclear ambitions, despite the harsh rhetoric coming out of Tehran.

"If you look at the long run, we can not be deterred by Iranian threats because an Iran with nuclear weapons would be such a much more dire threat to our interests that I think we have to do whatever we can to join with the international community to stop them," she added.

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan put the focus on upcoming action by the Security Council. He reaffirmed the administration is not seeking an initial vote on sanctions, but wants the council to start with a strong statement calling on Tehran to comply with the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"The international community is concerned about the regime's pursuit of nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program," said Mr. McClellan.

Iran has said its nuclear program is designed to generate electricity, and its leaders have said they will not stop their push to obtain nuclear technology. On Wednesday, an Iranian official promised retaliation if the Security Council takes action against Tehran.

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