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Rice Says Military Action Against Iran Not on Agenda

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 5, 2005; Page A12

BERLIN, Feb. 4 -- After a series of tough statements about Iran from the Bush administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday that a U.S. attack was "simply not on the agenda" for now in the showdown over Tehran's alleged nuclear weapons program and other issues.

Rice, who is on the first leg of a week-long trip to Europe and the Middle East, said the United States still had "many diplomatic tools" that it intended to "pursue fully" to ensure that Iran's theocratic government did not subvert a legal nuclear energy program to develop weapons.

During her first trip abroad as secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice met with her British counterpart, Foreign Minister Jack Straw. (AFP Photo)

MSNBC Video: The Post's Glenn Kessler discusses Rice's meetings with European leaders Friday.

Rice's remarks coincided with her effort to repair relations with European allies strained over the war in Iraq. Talk of diplomacy could serve to assuage concern in Europe about recent threatening words from Washington over Iran.

In London, Rice met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and at a subsequent joint news conference with the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, she was pressed on whether there were any circumstances in which the United States would take military action against Iran. She replied, "The question is simply not on the agenda at this point in time." She said no American president was ever asked to take options off the table, but noted that there were "plenty of diplomatic means at our disposal to get the Iranians to finally live up to their international obligations."

During Rice's first trip abroad as America's top diplomat, Iran has repeatedly drawn attention away from attempts to repair relations with Europe. Rice has faced frequent questions about whether the Bush administration has developed a new Iran policy that includes ousting the clerical government, in power since the 1979 revolution toppled the shah, a U.S. ally.

In recent public forums, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and the other top foreign policy officials have lambasted Iran and indicated that the administration intended to take more robust action during Bush's second term to encourage change there. Some of their statements have left open the possibility of military action or an attempt to topple the country's government.

Britain, Germany and France have pressed the United States to join in negotiations they have opened with Iran aimed at persuading it to permanently abandon any nuclear weapons ambitions. The Bush administration has balked at taking a direct role, but the Europeans say a final deal is unlikely without the United States because it is a military power in the Persian Gulf.

In an attempt to defuse the debate, Rice emphasized Friday the "complete unity of purpose" between the United States and the European governments on Iran, Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

She denied that the United States was isolated in its refusal to engage with Iran, countering that Iran was the party facing growing isolation for its failure to comply with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Rice said Iran was also isolated politically because its elections were not considered legitimate by countries around the world.

Rice flew Friday from London to Berlin, where she met with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and again stressed common goals. "The Iranians need to be in compliance with their international obligations, and we have very good cooperation and discussions with . . . European colleagues on a solid message to the Iranians that that is a necessity," she told reporters at a joint news conference with Schroeder.

Rice appeared to make progress in repairing the policy chasm created over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, with Schroeder offering to increase Germany's role in training Iraqi security forces in the United Arab Emirates. "I have declared the country's readiness to not just continue with these projects but, if desired, to also expand upon them," he said.

Schroeder also said Germany could help Iraq build the institutions of its new government, which is to be formed this month.

After Iraq's elections last Sunday, Schroeder said, "the international community of states is now called upon to come in and help, and Germany certainly will do so."

The Bush administration is exploring the idea of having Germany, which has a federal system of government, help Iraq as it tries to develop a similar formula in a new constitution that would embrace disparate ethnic and religious communities, according to a senior U.S. official.

The atmosphere during Rice's talks in Berlin was in stark contrast to tensions two years ago with Germany, France and Russia over using force to remove Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. At the time, Rice was widely quoted as urging a policy to "forgive Russia, ignore Germany and punish France."

Rice is to travel on Saturday to Poland and then Turkey, where she will have a working dinner with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. The centerpiece of her European tour is a speech next week in Paris on the common bonds and agenda of the United States and Europe.

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