Washington Post: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that the United States would rebuff European efforts to bring it into negotiations with Iran aimed at preventing the Islamic state from developing nuclear weapons. Flying to Europe for her first trip abroad as secretary, she told reporters that the United States was confronting the theocratic … Washington Post
By Robin Wright
LONDON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that the United States would rebuff European efforts to bring it into negotiations with Iran aimed at preventing the Islamic state from developing nuclear weapons.
Flying to Europe for her first trip abroad as secretary, she told reporters that the United States was confronting the theocratic government in Tehran in “a variety of ways” with “a variety of different partners” to end its nuclear weapons ambitions, support for Islamic extremism, interference in Iraq and human rights violations.
Her unusually strong words signaled that the Bush administration would take a more robust stand against Iran during the president’s second term.
“It’s not the absence of anybody’s involvement that’s keeping the Iranians from knowing what they need to do,” Rice told reporters. “They need to live up their obligations. They need to agree to verification and to stop trying to hide activities under cover of civilian nuclear power.”
Iran could emerge as one of the most contentious issues during Rice’s premiere as the top U.S. diplomat, the first African American woman to hold that post. Her trip is intended on both sides of the Atlantic to help smooth relations that were damaged by disagreements over the invasion of Iraq and other Middle East issues. She will also prepare the way for a European trip by President Bush later this month.
Three European nations — Britain, France and Germany — have been negotiating with Iran since 2003 over a deal to ensure that its legal nuclear energy program is not subverted to develop weapons of mass destruction. The United States says the subversion is apparently already happening.
So far, the United States has been playing the menacing bad cop in the background as the Europeans played good cop in negotiating directly with Tehran. But now the Europeans are pressing Washington to take part in the talks, on the grounds that the essential issue is security in a region where the United States is a major military power.
European officials say that without U.S. participation they doubt they will be able to get a permanent pact to replace the temporary deal reached last November curtailing Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
Rice told reporters traveling with her on the first leg of a week-long trip to Europe and the Middle East that Iranian behavior on other issues was “not acceptable” and “out of step” with both other nations and a region that is embarking on political change, as reflected in the recent Iraqi, Palestinian and Afghan elections.
“What we support is that the Iranian people should have a chance to determine their own future and right now, under this regime, they have no opportunity to determine their own future,” Rice said. “They should be no different from the Palestinians, or the Iraqis, or the Afghans, or people around the world . . . who are determining their own future.”
She stopped short of calling for the ouster of Iran’s ruling clerics, who assumed power after the 1979 revolution ended more than 2,500 years of dynastic rule. But in unusually strong language, Rice said Iran’s treatment of its own people is “something to be loathed.” Citing President Bush’s State of the Union address Wednesday, she said the Iranian people “deserve better.”
In his speech, Bush said, “To the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.”
On Thursday, Iran’s supreme leader condemned Bush’s remarks and said he would fail like his four predecessors to topple Tehran’s clerical leaders. “The Islamic Republic of Iran, because of defending the rights of the oppressed and confronting oppressors, is being attacked by the global tyrants,” state media quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying.
When pressed on whether Bush’s statement meant a new policy on so-called regime change, Rice said, “Policy is that the United States in a variety of ways and with a variety of different partners is seeking to deal with the destabilizing effects of Iranian behavior — Iranian behavior toward terrorism, Iranian behavior on nuclear weapons as well as nuclear power, Iranian behavior in trying to deal with Iraq in ways that are not transparent.”
During Bush’s first term, the administration did not have a formal Iran policy because of deep fissures between the State Department and the Pentagon over whether to try bring about a change of government through covert or overt actions.
U.S. officials say that in light of what they call dramatic recent political progress in Iraq and nearby countries, the White House is now emboldened to take a harder line on Iran.
The administration also hopes to elicit wider international involvement in the next phase of Iraq’s transition this year, which will center on writing a constitution and accelerated training of Iraqi forces, U.S. officials say.
Since U.S. occupation rule ended seven months ago, Rice said, there has been a “steady evolution” of international help, even from countries that opposed the invasion. Germany and the NATO alliance both pledged to help train Iraqi security forces, while wealthy nations pledged to forgive 80 percent of Iraq’s debt. The administration hopes to win commitments for additional help this year so that the foreign imprint in Iraq is not overwhelmingly American.
“It’s time for the entire international community to assess what more they can do,” she said.
Rice will hold talks in Europe and the Middle East about building on the momentum that has developed in the Arab-Israeli peace process since Mahmoud Abbas became Palestinian Authority president last month. But she warned that it would be a mistake to look for a “fast breakthrough.”
While hailing the Egyptian initiative to bring Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas together next week, she said she had no plans to be at the Sinai summit. “Not every effort needs to be American,” she told reporters.