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U.S.: British Foreign Secretary Says U.S. Committed To Diplomatic Approach Toward Iran

U.S. Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice met last night in Washington with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. After the meeting, Straw said Washington supports the use of diplomacy over military action in dealings with Iran and its suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Prague, 25 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the BBC that the issue of military action was not even mentioned during his talks with Condoleezza Rice:

"The issue of military option simply wasn't raised today during the course of a very long discussion. Let's make that clear," Straw said. "Vice President [Dick] Cheney said that he backs the diplomatic approach to Iran. It's a difficult issue for everybody because you have a country there which has been in unquestioned breach of its international obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. There is an issue of how you bring it back into line with those obligations."

Straw told journalists after the meeting that the U.S. administration is committed to using diplomacy to deal with Tehran's suspected nuclear-weapons program.

There's been growing speculation about possible U.S. military action against Iran following comments made by top U.S. officials, as well as an article by award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. The article -- in the "New Yorker" magazine -- quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying Iran is the next target in the war on terrorism and that the Bush administration is making advance preparations for targeting nuclear sites inside the Islamic Republic.

U.S. President George W. Bush reiterated long-standing policy last week that "all options" remain open regarding how to deal with Iran's suspected nuclear activities.

His comments were followed by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who said Iran is at the top of the U.S. list of world "trouble spots." But he said the U.S. government will continue to try to use diplomacy to address what he said are concerns about Iran's nuclear-weapons program and its ties to terrorism.
Iranian officials have dismissed the recent comments from Washington as "psychological warfare," while also emphasizing they are ready to defend themselves from possible attack.

Cheney also expressed concern that Israel "might well decide to act first" to eliminate any nuclear threat from Tehran.

Iran has said its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only.

Ahead of Straw's talks with Rice, British newspapers reported that he produced a 200-page dossier that rules out military action against Tehran and makes the case for a "negotiated solution" to curbing its alleged nuclear ambitions.

Britain, France, and Germany -- the so-called "EU Three" -- have been engaged in talks with Iran in a bid to persuade the country from pursuing nuclear weapons. Straw said Washington backs those talks, and Rice is due to meet today in Washington with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Gary Samore, director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said that while Washington would prefer a diplomatic solution to the crisis, U.S. officials remain skeptical of the European Union's diplomatic efforts.

"The other options are very unattractive and in particular a military strike is not seen as a good option because it is unlikely to solve the problem," Samore said. "And the United States already has its hands full in the Middle East fighting in Iraq. At the same time, I think the United Sates is very skeptical that a diplomatic solution can be achieved. So the U.S. is waiting to see what the Europeans can produce."

Iranian officials have dismissed the recent comments from Washington as "psychological warfare," while also emphasizing they are ready to defend themselves from possible attack.

Samore said the United States is using the threat of military action against Iran as a leverage.

"The United States believes that the threat of military action will help to persuade Iran to reach a diplomatic solution with the 'EU Three,' Samore said. "At the same time, I think if the diplomacy fails, if the talks collapse, and Iran proceeds ahead with its nuclear program, I think that Washington will take a serious look at the possibilities of a military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities -- even though there are many down sides."

The United States and Israel accuse Iran of pursuing a clandestine nuclear-weapons program. Cheney described Iran's nuclear program as "fairly robust."
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.