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US Attack on Iran Not on Agenda, Rice Says

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling in Europe on her first foreign trip in her new job, says the Bush administration is continuing to rely on diplomacy to stop what U.S. officials believe is Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. She says the use of force is not on the U.S. agenda, at this time.

The first two stops on Ms. Rice's itinerary were Britain and Germany, which along with France are leading a European initiative to try to persuade Iran to fully disclose its nuclear activities.

U.S. officials have privately expressed impatience with the efforts of the so-called Euro Three, and Bush administration figures, including Ms. Rice, have been stepping up verbal criticism of Iran's nuclear ambitions and support for Middle East terrorism.

However, at a joint news conference in London Friday with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Ms. Rice moved to allay concern in Europe and elsewhere that the United States may be contemplating military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms.

Pressed by a reporter whether she envisaged any circumstance under which the United States might attack Iran, she said the question is simply not on the U.S. agenda at this point in time.

"We believe, particularly with regard to the nuclear issue that while no one ever asks the American President to take all of his options, to take any option, off the table, that there are plenty of diplomatic means at our disposal to get Iranians to finally live up to their international obligations," she said.

Foreign Secretary Straw, for his part, said European efforts with Iran have succeeded to the extent they have, only because there is an international consensus behind them including support from the United States.

He conceded Iran may be trying to deceive the Europeans about its nuclear intentions, which is why he said he and his France and German colleagues are seeking an unambiguous disclosure of Tehran's nuclear activities.

"It's precisely because of that risk that one of the parts of the Brussels agreement that was reached in November is that Iran must provide the international community with quote, objective guarantees, and we mean objective guarantees about the real purposes and the control from its civil nuclear program," he said.

Here in Berlin, Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder, after his meeting with Ms. Rice, said he was not concerned that recent harsh criticism of Iran by U.S. officials including Ms. Rice is undermining the European nuclear initiative.

Ms. Rice told reporters at the start of her trip that Iran's human rights record and treatment of its own citizens is something to be loathed.

She has stopped short of a call for regime change in Iran, but told reporters in Berlin that Iranians should enjoy the freedom that they deserve.

Chancellor Schroeder said he was not troubled by such remarks, including a similar assertion about Iran in President Bush's State of the Union address Wednesday.

He said he derived from the comments that Mr. Bush's heart is where it should be, as he put it, with the democrats, irrespective of what country we're talking about.

The Secretary of State, on Saturday, goes to Warsaw and Ankara, and then travels to the Middle East for separate meetings Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Both British and German officials have told Ms. Rice they consider progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict their top international priority.