Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, beginning her first foreign trip as Secretary, says the United States is seeking European help in trying to deal with destabilizing Iranian behavior with regard to terrorism, nuclear weapons and Iraq. She says the Iranian government's human rights record and treatment of its own people are something to be loathed.
Ms. Rice's comments on Iran in a talk with reporters en route to London were some of the strongest by a senior Bush administration official, though she stopped short of an outright call for regime change there.
The Secretary, beginning a weeklong trip to Europe and the Middle East, said one of her objectives will be to generate more international pressure on Iran to end support for terrorists, and to comply fully with its international nuclear obligations.
Mr. Rice was questioned about remarks by President Bush on Iran in his State-of-the-Union address Wednesday night.
In it, Mr. Bush reiterated U.S. criticism on Iran for alleged terrorism and pursuit of nuclear weapons, but also assured the Iranian people that the United States stands with them as they stand for their own liberty.
Pressed as to what this meant in policy terms, Mr. Rice said the remarks were not unlike past comments by the President, in which he has said that the aspirations of the Iranian people are being suppressed by an unelected few.
"In terms of the Iranian regime, I don't think anybody thinks that the unelected Mullahs who run that regime are a good thing for either the Iranian people or for the region," she explained. "The region is going in a quite different direction. And the President last night said that the Iranian people deserve better, essentially. I think our European allies agree that the Iranian regime, its human rights behavior, and its behavior toward its population, is something to be loathed."
Ms. Rice said the Iranian people should have an opportunity to determine their own future, and be no different in that regard than Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans and Ukrainians, all of whom have had recent elections.
The new Secretary expressed appreciation for efforts by Britain, France and Germany to persuade Iran to fully disclose its nuclear activity.
But she said Iranians have shown no real indication they are prepared to live up to international nuclear obligations and, in her words continue to play games every time they can.
She called for unity of purpose and message among the United States, Europe, Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency in making clear to Iran the implications of its non-compliance.
Similarly, she said she hopes that all those who want peace between Israel and the Palestinians will recognize, and act on, Iran's disruptive activities in the region.
"The Iranians are one of the strongest supporters of the rejectionists in that process, whether it is Hezbollah or Iranian help to the Palestinian rejectionists," she added. "And you can't have it both ways, you can't say that you want peace between Israel and the Palestinians and not do everything you can to disable the Palestinian rejectionists and Hezbollah. And that will be a message that I think we will want to discuss with the Europeans."
Ms. Rice goes from London to Berlin, Warsaw and Ankara before making her first Middle East visit as Secretary of State, with talks Monday with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
She makes four more stops in Europe next week before returning to Washington.