PRAGUE -- In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the nuclear standoff with Iran can be resolved diplomatically.
But the top U.S. diplomat did not deny media reports that Washington is secretly funding activities inside Iran aimed at inciting ethnic unrest.
Rice's interview at RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague with Radio Farda came amid rising international tensions over Iran's disputed nuclear program.
Earlier today, an aide to Iran's supreme leader was quoted as saying that Tehran would attack Tel Aviv and U.S. shipping and interests around the world if Iranian nuclear sites are attacked.
Asked whether Washington or Israel might launch such an attack, Rice told Radio Farda that President George W. Bush has made it clear that the United States wants to peacefully resolve the issue of Tehran's nuclear enrichment program.
"We believe very strongly and President Bush has made very clear that this problem with Iran, about its nuclear technology, can be resolved diplomatically. That is what we're working on," Rice said.
Rice added that nuclear enrichment, which brings with it the ability to produce nuclear weapons, is the key problem with Iran's nuclear program and that it must be suspended. She said that Iran has a right to civilian nuclear technology -- and that the international community has proposed to assist Iran in developing it.
"We want very much for the Iranian people to be able to have good relations with the United States. There's no reason that this great civilization with a great history and a great culture, should be isolated from international politics," Rice said.
"And so there is a diplomatic way to do this. And that's why the United States is a part of the group -- that is, Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia, and China -- has made a proposal to the Iranian government that we hope they will accept." Reports Of Covert Funding
However, Rice offered no denial when asked about a report in "The New Yorker" magazine that the United States is spending $400 million on covert activities inside Iran aimed at inciting ethnic unrest. Rice said Washington does not seek regime change in Iran but wants to positively change the Iranian government's behavior.
"The United States has made very clear that we are prepared to deal with the Iranian regime if it is prepared to change its policies. I have said many times that I am willing to meet my [Iranian] counterpart anytime, anyplace, anywhere to talk about anything," Rice said.
Addressing recent media reports that the United States might open a U.S. interests section in Tehran, Rice said no decision has been made. But she added that the United States is looking at ways to give Iranians easier access to visit the United States. She added that recent U.S. cultural exchanges with Iranians -- such as athletes and young artists -- have proved very fruitful.
She blamed the Iranian government for isolating its own people from the rest of the world.Missile Agreement
Earlier in Prague, Rice signed a controversial missile-defense pact
with the Czech government. The United States says the defense program, which has sparked angry reactions from Moscow, is aimed at defending Europe from missiles from rogue states, including Iran.
Rice's remarks came as international attention on Iran's nuclear program surged today.
At a summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries in Japan, the leaders issued a statement once again urging Iran to suspend its enrichment-related activities. The United States and others fear Iran wants that technology to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge.
Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said earlier that world powers have decided to send European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana to Iran for talks on an incentives package they offered last month for Tehran to change its nuclear policy and defuse tensions. Sarkozy did not say when Solana would travel to Tehran.
On July 4, Iran replied to the offer by the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia, and Germany. France said Iran's response had ignored the group's demand to suspend enrichment before talks on implementing the package. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has rejected that precondition as "illegitimate."
Tensions were further stoked today when Ali Shirazi, an aide to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted by the student news agency ISNA as saying: "The first bullet fired by America at Iran will be followed by Iran burning down its vital interests around the globe."Radio Farda correspondents Golnaz Esfandiari and Mosaddegh Katouzian conducted the interview with Secretary Rice