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Rice Heads to Europe for Meeting on Iran's Nuclear Program

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will join her counterparts from the other permanent member countries of the U.N. Security Council and Germany Thursday for a meeting in Berlin on Iran's nuclear program. U.S. officials say they'll try to come up with a strategy for getting Tehran to give up nuclear activities they say are weapons related.

The so-called "P-Five" permanent Security Council member states have been struggling for more than two weeks on the wording of an initial council statement expressing international concern about Iranian nuclear activities.

Officials here say the ministerial-level Berlin meeting will be aimed at providing a political boost to the effort to agree on the "president's statement" if it is not finalized by Thursday, but to also map out a medium- to long-term strategy about what happens after that in the diplomatic process.

The five powers plus Germany agreed in late January to send the Iranian nuclear issue to the Security Council. But they have been unable to agree on terms of the statement calling on Iran to roll-back on sensitive nuclear activity, with Russia and China reportedly holding out against language setting a deadline or threatening Tehran with sanctions.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the Berlin meeting will go forward regardless of whether an agreement is reached on the statement, and that the aim is to keep the spotlight where it belongs - on Iran and its non-compliance with international nuclear obligations:

"Right now the onus is on Iran," he said. "The Iranian regime needs to come into compliance with its NPT obligations. It needs to prove to the world that it will negotiate in good faith concerning their nuclear program. It needs to come back into the mainstream. So right now, this is not an issue between the United States and Iran, this is an issue between Iran and the rest of the world."

U.S. officials maintain that Iran's nominally peaceful nuclear program has a covert weapons component.

They say they are not opposed in principle to Iran having nuclear power plants. But they say that given nearly two decades of Iranian deception with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Tehran should not be allowed to have its own uranium-enrichment capability.

While in Berlin, Secretary Rice will also have a bilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on, among other things, a report late last week that Moscow may have supplied information on U.S. Iraqi war plans to Saddam Hussein before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

A U.S. military report Friday said that captured Iraqi documents described a Russian spy operation against the U.S. military command in the Middle East, and that information on American plans and troop movements was passed to Iraq through Russia's ambassador in Baghdad.

Secretary Rice told television interviewers Sunday the Bush administration would take very seriously any suggestion that a foreign government had passed such information to the Iraqis before the invasion, but said it was too early to jump to a conclusion about whether the leadership in Moscow had been involved.

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried raised the issue Monday with the Russian embassy in Washington, which was said to have conveyed U.S. concerns to Moscow.

Officials said Rice may telephone Lavrov to discuss the issue prior to their Berlin meeting.

The secretary's European trip will also include a stop in Paris for a meeting with President Jacques Chirac on Middle East issues, including developments in Lebanon.

She goes on to Britain for a weekend hosted by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in his northern England hometown of Blackburn, near Liverpool.

It reciprocates a visit by Straw to the secretary of state's home city of Birmingham, Alabama last October.