Rice Cites 'Lying' by Iran About Nuclear Program
Friday, October 12, 2007
SHANNON, Ireland, Oct. 11 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took issue Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement that there is no evidence Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, asserting that Tehran has prevaricated about its nuclear activities. At the same time, she held out hope that the White House and the Kremlin might bridge their differences over U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in the heart of Eastern Europe.
"There's an Iranian history of obfuscation and indeed lying" to international nuclear inspectors, Rice told reporters traveling on the plane with her to Moscow for meetings with Putin and other officials. "There's a history of Iran not answering important questions about what is going on. And there is Iran pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to nuclear weapons-grade material."
Rice said she believes Russia shares these concerns, noting that its leaders have offered to enrich uranium for Iran's nuclear energy program. "There's a reason for that, and it's suspicions about Iran's intentions," she said.
Russia could play a key role in the U.S. drive to step up pressure on Iran to rein in its nuclear activities. The United States is trying to line up support for a third round of U.N. sanctions aimed at Tehran, but so far Russian is hedging. Putin, who plans to visit Iran next week, said Wednesday that there is "no real data to claim that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons." Iran asserts that its nuclear program is purely peaceful and aimed at diversifying its energy supply.
Iran's nuclear ambitions are likely to come up in Rice's talks in Moscow, but the secretary indicated that both sides are awaiting a report in November from the International Atomic Energy Agency before intensifying negotiations. U.S. officials have also been trying to play down speculation in the news media and among liberal blogs that Bush is preparing for airstrikes aimed at Iran's nuclear facilities, emphasizing that their focus for the moment is diplomacy.
Administration officials say the main focus of the talks Friday and Saturday will be a variety of thorny arms control disputes, including missile defense, that have contributed to a worsening of U.S.-Russia relations. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will join Rice for a rare exercise of joint diplomacy with their Russian counterparts.
The biggest flash point is probably the U.S. plan to deploy a missile defense system that American officials say is intended to guard, at least in part, against the possibility that Iran might develop nuclear-tipped missiles that could threaten Europe and the United States. The plan for a radar facility in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptors in Poland has elicited a strong Russian reaction, including suspending participation in a treaty on conventional forces in Europe.
Russian officials have complained that the evolving system could be directed at reducing their country's nuclear deterrent in the future. Putin has also floated an alternative missile defense plan that could include facilities in Azerbaijan and in southern Russia.
In recent days, administration officials have spoken favorably of some of the Russian ideas and voiced hope, privately, that they might draw the Russians into participating in a joint system of regional missile defense. This, the officials say, might send a powerful signal to Tehran that Europe is united against any nuclear ambitions it might harbor.
Officials say Gates has indications that the Russian military might be interested in such an arrangement. But Russian Foreign Ministry officials continue to push a harder line -- that the United States must first back off from plans for the facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic. In doing this, U.S. officials suspect, the Russians hope to drive a wedge between Washington and its European allies.