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Rice Visits Europe to Seek Consensus on Iran
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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concluded her visits to Germany, France and Britain on Sunday, but differences remained, in spite of her efforts to seek consensus on the Iranian nuclear issue.

"This is not a time to try and come to a conclusion about what the next step is. It is an opening discussion about those next steps. I would not at this point carve in stone anybody's decisions about what the next steps might be," Rice said en route to Berlin, Germany, the first stop of her Europe visit on March 29.

"I will also have an opportunity to meet with (German) Chancellor (Angela) Merkel and with (French) President (Jacques) Chirac," Rice said.

Rice attended discussions with the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany in Berlin on March 30. The meeting called on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and return to the negotiation table. This came one day after the United Nations Security Council approved a non-binding statement that gave Iran 30 days to end its uranium enrichment program.

Rice said the Berlin meeting sent "a very strong signal to Iran that the international community was united" and she also hinted at escalating Security Council action should Iran disregard the demand to freeze its uranium enrichment.

According to a report by the New York Times, Rice also raised the idea of imposing unspecified sanctions on Iran, including travel bans on senior Iranian officials, and freezing their foreign bank accounts.

In contrast, the European Union seems more focused on persuading Iran to return to the negotiation table.

"We all very much hope that Iran will seize the offer to resume negotiations and we use this opportunity to once again call on Iran to suspend all enrichment activities and to open up again the path leading to negotiations," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after the Berlin meeting.

Although "tactical differences" remained as Rice admitted, the visit sent a clear message to the outside world that the United States wanted to remain in consultation, and united with Europe in dealing with Iran, although the visit itself had not born much fruit.

The US government, which launched the war against Iraq in 2003, in spite of strong opposition from Chirac and then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, has been trying to restore its traditional alliance with France and Germany in particular and improve its transatlantic relations.

To allay European fears that the US might launch military attacks against Iran, Rice said in Britain on Friday, "As to military force, the American president never takes any option off the table. You do not want the American president to take any option off the table. But we also recognize that [military action]is not what is on the agenda now."

"We are in a process that we believe can work diplomatically," Rice said, although she admitted that diplomacy took time and "some patience."

It took three weeks for the United Nations Security Council to pass a statement on Iran, and it might take months for the Security Council to approve a tougher resolution imposing sanctions on the country. It appears that the US government surely needs to exercise its patience, and take the time necessary to try to settle Iran's nuclear issue through diplomacy.

(Xinhua News Agency April 3, 2006)

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