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U.S.: Rice To Voice Concerns On Russia, Iran, As European Tour Continues

Condoleezza Rice (file photo) Condoleezza Rice is continuing her first overseas tour as U.S. secretary of state. After a brief stopover in Poland, she is due to arrive in Turkey, where she will meet her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. She is expected to express her concerns about rule of law and democracy in Russia, and further press her hard-line case on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

5 February 2005 -- Rice's trip so far has been dominated by questions over U.S. policy towards Iran, which Washington accuses of developing nuclear weapons.

She arrived in Europe with strong comments, condemning Iran's leadership for human rights abuses and alleged deceit about its nuclear program.

Yesterday she toned down her language, saying in London that the U.S. is not considering a military attack on Iran.

But later yesterday in Berlin, she reiterated her criticisms.

"The behavior of the Iranian government, both internally and externally, is of concern to an international community that is increasingly unified around the view that values matter, that the Middle East is a place that is in need of reform and change, and I see no difficulty in continuing to say that and continuing to work for that," Rice said.

Britain, Germany, and France are leading a European diplomatic campaign to end Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions.

But German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder rejected a suggestion that U.S. insistence on democratic change in Iran would compromise those efforts.

"I have made clear that Germany, along with France and Great Britain, will do everything, and I mean everything, to go down a political and diplomatic path in order to achieve a solution which is widely acceptable. I believe the steps taken so far are the right steps towards this solution," Schroeder said.

Iran will figure again in Rice's talks later today, when she heads to Ankara for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

She is expected to urge Russia to keep on hold a deal to supply fuel to Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor. Washington alleges such a deal would bring Tehran closer to building nuclear weapons. But the main topic will be U.S. concerns over Russian democracy.

Rice, a Russia expert, said ahead of her trip this week the Kremlin had accumulated too much power and noted concerns over the judiciary's impartiality.

In December 2004, the State Duma approved Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans to scrap gubernatorial elections and allow the president to nominate governors.

There have also been concerns that authorities' actions against the Yukos oil giant have been an attempt to silence political opponents and regain control of strategic economic assets.