"Have we been tough enough on Iran or haven't we?"Image: AP
Confusion as Rice Backtracks in Brussels
DW Staff / AFP (nda)
February 9, 2005
After chiding Europe for not being assertive with Iran, Condoleezza Rice backtracked at NATO HQ in Brussels Wednesday saying the Iranians had been reminded in no uncertain terms of their international responsibilities.
US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on Wednesday urged European negotiators to take a tough line with Iran, warning Tehran of sanctions if it refuses to renounce its suspected nuclear weapons program.
"I think a diplomatic solution is in our grasp if we have unity of message and unity of purpose," Rice told a news conference after meeting with her NATO counterparts. Her remarks followed a day of confusion over Washington's policy on Iran, after the top US diplomat gave an interview with Fox News television in which she apparently scolded the Europeans for their handling of negotiations.
The talks, being led by Britain, France and Germany, have been a key issue during Rice's week-long tour of Europe and the Middle East, her first foreign trip since being confirmed in her post last month.
"The Iranians need to hear that if they are unwilling to take the deal, really, that the Europeans are giving ... then the Security Council referral looms," she said in the Fox News interview. "I don't know that anyone has said that as clearly as they should to the Iranians," she added.
EU ponders mixed messages
But at NATO headquarters she appeared to back off somewhat and would not be drawn on an ultimatum, although she reiterated that Washington was monitoring the proceedings closely. "I believe everybody is telling the Iranians that they are going to have to live up to their international obligations or next steps are in the offing," she told the press conference.
"We've set no deadline, no timeline," she said, when asked how long the US administration would let talks continue before pushing for other action. "The Iranians know what they need to do," she added. "The Iranians have to be held to their international obligations. We haven't set any timetables. We continue to be completely in close consultation with the Europeans, about how it is going, about whether progress is being made."
Iran should take European chance, says Rice
Rice urged the Iranians to "take the opportunity that the Europeans are giving them to live up to these obligations," and added "The message is there."
"The Iranians need to get that message. We can certainly always remind them that there are other steps that the international community has at its disposal should they not be prepared to live up to those obligations."
The United States accuses Iran of trying to obtain nuclear weapons under cover of developing a civilian atomic energy programme and has not excluded a military option against Tehran. But while Washington wants to take the case to the UN Security Council, the Europeans have favoured seeking to resolve the issue through talks.
At their latest round of talks with Iran in Geneva, according to diplomats, Britain, France and Germany warned the country about activities that verge on breaches of its deal to freeze nuclear fuel cycle work.
The United States has so far supported the diplomatic efforts, which have focussed on getting Iran to promise not to make the bomb in return for trade privileges with the 25-nation bloc. But the US line has been one seemingly headed for the UN Security Council since day one.
"The international community has got to be certain to speak with one very tough voice to the Iranians that it is not going to be acceptable for Iran to build a nuclear weapon under cover of civilian nuclear power," Rice told Fox. She added the United States had believed all along the Iranians should be referred to the UN Security Council for alleged violations of international non-proliferation norms.
Iranians accuse US of sabotage
Meanwhile, Rice's remarks in the interview prompted Hassan Rohani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, to accuse the United States of trying to derail negotiations between Tehran and Europe's 'Big Three'. "If it wasn't for America's pressures, Iran and the European countries would have definitely reached an agreement in the next few weeks," the official IRNA news agency quoted Rohani as saying.
"All of America's efforts aim at the failure of Iran's agreements with the European countries. Such agreements are expensive for the United States," he added. "The Europeans are definitely under the influence of the United States and say that if Iran has enrichment we don't know what it will do in the future," Rohani said.
"We want to solve this issue through agreements," Rohani added. "But if we do not reach an agreement, Iran will automatically start enrichment."