| Condoleezza Rice at a music school in Paris. (AFP)
Brussels, Feb. 9 (Reuters): US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice urged European allies today to get tougher with Iran, highlighting continuing policy differences despite her call for a new chapter in transatlantic relations.
Rice held talks with Nato foreign ministers and was due to visit the EU after saying Iran should be warned it faces referral to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions unless it accepts an EU deal on its nuclear programme.
'(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 told Fox News.
'I don't know that anyone has said that as clearly as they should to the Iranians,' she said in a comment intended not only to pressure Tehran but also to spur the three main European powers to be firmer in their negotiations with Iran.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair played down any division with Washington over Iran, telling parliament in London: 'We are pursuing the policy of engagement which we have conducted with France and Germany ' and with US' full support.'
Blair took a step towards the US view of the Islamic Republic yesterday, branding it a sponsor of terrorism, but he defended Europe's policy of diplomatic engagement with Tehran.
'It is important to make clear to Iran that they cannot breach the rules of the atomic energy authority and they cannot develop nuclear weapons' capability. That is the very clear wish of the entire international community,' he said.
Divisions over Iran and China were a reality check on the upbeat mood nurtured by Rice this week on her maiden journey as secretary of state.
The US has rejected European pleas for the Bush administration to bolster the EU's leverage by getting involved in the bargaining and offering incentives of its own for Iran to end uranium enrichment, which Washington says are part of a secret drive to build a bomb. Iran denies the charge.
The EU has, meanwhile, rebuffed US pleas to reverse course on plans to lift an arms embargo on China this year.
Rice's first stop was at Nato, the transatlantic military alliance whose members disagreed over the Iraq war and are still willing to give only limited collective support for the US-led operation in Iraq, mostly by training Iraqi officers.
Diplomats said both Washington and Brussels appeared to be preparing the ground for a possible failure of the talks.
A senior state department official, who asked not to be named, said: 'We are giving them the chance (to get Iranian compliance). We appreciate their efforts, good for them. But if the Iranians don't take the opportunity, then we have to be talking of the alternatives.'
The policy splits could undermine Rice's appeal yesterday in Paris for an end to the US-European rift over the Iraq war ' an appeal that was well received in France.