Sights not set on Iran, Rice says in Europe

Britain, Germany warmly receive top U.S. diplomat

February 05, 2005|By John Daniszewski | John Daniszewski,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in her debut trip abroad yesterday as the United States' senior diplomat, said that a U.S. invasion of Iran is "simply not on the agenda at this point in time" but repeatedly warned Iran to resolve doubts about its nuclear ambitions.

Rice spoke forcefully about Iran at a Foreign Office news conference in London with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw at her side, and later in Berlin next to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. All sides insisted there is no divide between Europe and the United States on the issues of democracy and nuclear proliferation in Iran.

U.S. officials are presenting Rice's trip as an effort to show European allies that Washington in President Bush's second term is committed to working more closely with them in the field of diplomacy.

Her trip also signaled a willingness to take an early hands-on role in the conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the Middle East.

Rice planned to travel to the Mideast this weekend, and also announced that she will take part in a conference in London on March 1 aimed at helping the Palestinian Authority create structures that would help it some day govern an independent state.

The conference is an initiative of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who long has argued that the United States should make Mideast peace more of a priority because any movement toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians creates a more wholesome environment in the region and will pay dividends for world security.

Yesterday, however, Rice focused most of her comments on Iran. Days earlier, in his State of the Union address, President Bush had labeled the theocratic leadership in Tehran as the world's biggest state sponsor of terrorism.

In harsher terms than are normally spoken in Europe, Rice laid down a thoroughgoing indictment of the "unelected few" now in charge of Iran, castigating what she called their "abysmal" record on human rights, their murky attitude toward democratic changes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their willingness to frustrate the aspirations of their people.

United front

She said the United States and Britain were united in their desire for a democratic and transparent Iran.

At the same time, Rice said that the United States endorsed diplomatic talks going on among Iran and three European Union governments: Britain, France and Germany. The negotiations are intended to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear-weapons capability under the guise of building civilian nuclear power plants.

"We believe, while no one ever asked the American president to take any option off the table, that there are plenty of diplomatic means at our disposal to get the Iranians to finally live up to their international obligations," she said.

Later, in Germany, she said that "unity of message to the Iranians" from Washington and Europe would help diplomacy to work.

Appearing relaxed and confident in her new job, Rice began with Britain, with which the United States enjoys a "special relationship," and continued on to Germany, where things have been much more testy in recent years.

Breakfast meeting

Rice had breakfast with Blair at his 10 Downing Street office before conferring with Straw and meeting representatives of the international media based here. She also had an off-the-record meeting with "opinion makers" in Britain.

Blair set a cheery, informal note for Rice, calling her by her nickname "Condi" in the presence of reporters and saying she is "a good friend of ours" and "an absolutely excellent appointment."

But even in Berlin and Paris, it seemed Rice could count on a forward-looking reception from a Europe eager to move past the recent several years of strain in the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Most analysts believe that Bush's undisputed re-election, his declarations that he is committed to working with America's allies, and the successful completion of the Iraqi elections have created the possibility of an improvement in relations.

In Berlin last night, Rice and Schroeder gave every appearance of good feeling and friendliness, talking for a full hour rather than the 40 minutes scheduled and smiling broadly afterward.

They sought to put to rest any lingering tensions over Germany's decision to keep its distance from the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Since then, Germany has agreed to help train security forces for the new Iraqi government but has not contributed any of its own troops to Iraq.

Schroeder said at a news conference that Germany is in basic accord with what Bush expressed about Iran in his State of the Union address.

"I've understood from the president's address that his heart is where it should be, namely with the democrats," the German leader said. "What tools should be ideally used to get to this desired state of having democratic circumstances in a country, that is a discussion that will continue."

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