AFP: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed concern Sunday over the actions of Iran and Syria in neighboring Iraq, saying the two countries have not been helpful. "We certainly are concerned by the role that Iran has tried to play in Iraq," Rice said in an interview with the ABC television program "This Week." AFP

WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed concern Sunday over the actions of Iran and Syria in neighboring Iraq, saying the two countries have not been helpful.

"We certainly are concerned by the role that Iran has tried to play in Iraq," Rice said in an interview with the ABC television program "This Week."

"The Iranians need to understand that the Iraqis are going to build their own future, that it is going to be a future that is very different than the Iranian regime.

"I do believe that the Iranians have not been particularly a force for stability and for good," said Rice, who was confirmed as secretary of state last week, replacing Colin Powell.

Asked in an interview with CNN television about Syria's role in Iraq, Rice said: "The Syrians have not been as helpful as they should be, and we've made that very clear.

"We believe that there are insurgents and insurgent support networks that have operated out of Syria," she said, "and we asked them to do a number of things to stop that, and we'll be continuing to pressure the Syrians to do exactly that."

Asked what type of pressure could be applied to Damascus, Rice said: "We have tools. Obviously, the president ordered some sanctions under the Syrian Accountability Act a couple of months ago."

"The Syrians do not want to get on a track where they are in a long-term bad relationship with the United States, and so I would hope that they would be more responsive."

As for Iran, Rice told CNN the "Iranians have engaged in some activities that we think are unhelpful in Iraq.

"Iran is Iraq's neighbor, and we expect there to be relations between Iran and Iraq. But they need to be transparent, neighborly relations, not relations that are aimed somehow at subverting Iraqi political processes.

"And so this is a discussion that a number of people are having with the Iranians."

Asked about Iran's nuclear program, Rice said: "The Iranians know what they need to do.

"They know that they cannot be responsible members of the international community and pursue nuclear weapons under cover of civilian nuclear programs.

"We've been in close contact with the Europeans as they try the dialogue that they're having with the Iranians, to move the Iranians to a position where they live up to their international obligations, and we'll continue to do that," she said.

"But it needs to be understood that Iran has not been in compliance with its international obligations. It needs to get there."

She told ABC there was no "split" between the United States and Europe on how to deal with Iran. "I've just met with (British Foreign Secretary) Jack Straw and with my counterpart from Germany (Joschka Fischer), and I have to say, I don't see a developing split here," she said.

Asked whether the United States was worried Israel may carry out a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, Rice said: "An Iran that is nuclear-armed, of course, is going to be a force for instability in that region, and all kinds of things are possible if Iran gets to a nuclear device that is usable."

Rice declined to rule out US military action against Iran, saying the "president never takes any option off the table." "But we believe, we believe fully, that this can be resolved by diplomatic means," she added.

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