The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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No Iran attack plans: Rice

London, Feb. 4 (Reuters): Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice began her first foreign tour as America's top diplomat with a double-edged pledge today that Washington had no immediate plans to attack Iran.

'The question is simply not on the agenda at this point ' we have diplomatic means to do this,' she said when asked if Washington was considering military action to force compliance from Tehran on its nuclear programme.

Her response, assuaging fears of imminent military action, though leaving the door open for the future, was unlikely to reduce global tensions over Iran, which President George W. Bush this week called the 'world's primary state sponsor of terror.'

Rice hopes to use her week-long tour of Europe and West Asia to heal transatlantic ties after the war in Iraq and launch a new push for West Asia peace.

Rice insisted the West Asia conflict was high on the US agenda, as both Europe and the Arab world want. She reiterated US offers to help train Palestinian security forces and hailed a shift in mood under new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

'The political atmosphere has changed concerning terrorism,' she said. 'The fact is though, that there will have to be action, to make certain that terrorists cannot frustrate both his plans and endanger the lives of Israelis'

Three EU countries are trying to engage and negotiate with Iran to stop it developing nuclear weapons, but the US has preferred a tactic of confronting and isolating it.

Rice said Iran, branded by Washington as part of an 'axis of evil' with pre-war Iraq and North Korea, needs to live up to its obligations and agree to inspections.

'It is the Iranians that are isolated on this issue ' not the US,' she said, lambasting the Islamic republic's 'abysmal human rights record.'

Reform was sweeping through West Asia, she said in a speech littered with references to the US push for 'liberty'. 'Iran is not immune to the changes that are going on in this region,' she added, referring to recent elections in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Iran denies US charges it is developing a nuclear bomb. It says its programmes are for peaceful power generation needed to accommodate its growing population.

Despite indicating that Washington would not accede to Europe's plea for it to join the talks, Rice played down the different approaches. 'There is really very little difference between us about the challenges we face in dealing with the Iranian regime. We have many diplomatic tools still at our disposal and we intend to pursue them fully,' she added.

British foreign secretary Jack Straw glossed over policy differences to marvel at Rice's 'formidable programme of diplomacy' on her first trip as secretary of state.

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