February 9, 2005
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that Iran cannot delay indefinitely accountability for a suspected nuclear weapons program, but said the United States has set "no deadline, no timeline" for Tehran to act.
Nearing the end of a European tour that included visits to both old and new members of the expanding NATO, Rice said the United States remains in "close consultations" with its European allies on the issue.
But she warned Tehran that the United States would not accept foot-dragging by the government there as officials weigh various diplomatic overtures that European nations have made to resolve the nuclear question.
At a news conference with NATO officials, Rice told reporters that Iran must live up to its obligations.
"I'm quite clear and I believe everybody is telling the Iranians that they are going to have to live up to their international obligations," she said. "It is obvious that if Iran cannot be brought to live up to its international obligations, in fact, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) statute would indicate that Iran would have to be referred to the U.N. Security Council" for possible sanctions.
"I think the message is there," Rice said. "The Iranians need to get that message," she said, adding that Tehran should know that "there are other steps" the international community can take.
In remarks earlier in an interview with Fox News, released Wednesday, the secretary had said "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."
Asked at Wednesday's news conference how long the diplomatic efforts should continue, Rice replied, "We've set no deadline, no timeline. The Iranians know what they need to do."
Rice said the United States continues to be in close consultations with the Europeans "about how it's going, about whether progress is being made ... and we'll just monitor and continue those discussions. ... We are in very close consultation."
In the Fox interview, Rice said, "We have believed all along that Iran ought to be referred to the Security Council and then a variety of steps are available to the international community." The interview was taped in Paris and released after her arrival here.
"They need to hear that the discussions that they are in with the Europeans are not going to be a kind of waystation where they are allowed to continue their activities; that there's going to be an end to this and that they are going to end up in the Security Council," she said.
Britain, France and Germany are in talks with the Iranian regime, but the United States kept its distance from that effort and the Europeans has been reluctant to take the matter to the United Nations before making further efforts at a deal.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier used a news conference with Rice Tuesday night in Paris to repeat that France and the other European participants are committed to letting the diplomacy run its course.
He said he had asked Rice for American "support and confidence."
Rice told reporters that Iran is already on notice that it must not use a civilian nuclear power program to hide a weapons project.
Earlier Tuesday, Rice said in a speech that NATO can be a bulwark for freedom without playing world enforcer.
"How NATO's role will evolve, I think, is still an open question, but we need to be open to new roles that NATO might play," she said.
Alliance officials said in advance of her trip to Belgium that Rice's NATO visit would focus on preparations for a visit by President Bush on Feb. 22, when he will hold a summit with leaders of the other 25 allied nations.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer wants the meetings to seal a new unity in the trans-Atlantic alliance following bitter divisions over the Iraq war.
The talks are also expected to review NATO's peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo and its efforts to train Iraq's military. De Hoop Scheffer said last month's elections in Iraq - which were widely applauded in Europe - should boost allied efforts to expand its training mission.
Alliance defense ministers were set to discuss expanding both the Afghan and Iraq missions at a long-scheduled meeting Wednesday and Thursday.
NATO has been struggling to persuade governments to commit extra troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the problem has been compounded by the refusal of France, Germany and other nations that opposed the U.S.-led war to send instructors.
NATO currently has about 100 troops in Iraq on the training mission.
Rice's first trip abroad as secretary of state concludes Thursday in Luxembourg. She has said that either she or her second-in-command will visit each of the NATO capitals early this year.