Rice made her comments in a speech June 3 to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobby group in Washington. Her remarks broke no new ground, but her words were blunt and sometimes scathing.
Rice referred to calls from some quarters, including the presumptive Democratic nominee for U.S. president, Barack Obama, for face-to-face talks with Tehran. Obama is due to address AIPAC himself on June 4.
"I know that there is a serious debate right now, both in our country and in Israel, about how to address the threat posed by the Iranian regime," Rice said. "This debate, though, should not be about whether we talk to Iran. That's not the real issue. Diplomacy is not a synonym for talking. True diplomacy means structuring a set of incentives and disincentives to produce change in behavior."
Until that behavior is changed, Rice said, Western nations should put more pressure on Iran for flouting three UN Security Council resolutions that demand it suspend its nuclear program.
Rice reminded AIPAC members that she's offered to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, if only his government would comply with the UN resolutions.
"I have said that if Iran suspends its [nuclear] enrichment and reprocessing activities, I will join my UN Security Council colleagues, I'll meet with my Iranian counterpart. I'll do it any time, anywhere, on any issue," Rice said. "It's harder to be much clearer than that. And we would welcome a change in Iran's behavior because America doesn't have permanent enemies. We would be willing to meet with them, but not while they continue to inch closer to a nuclear weapon under the cover of talk."
Rice noted that Iran says its nuclear program is meant for peaceful, power-generating purposes, not to make weapons. Why then, she asked, do Iran's leaders reject offers of incentives, such as help with reactors needed only for nuclear power? Why, she asked, did Tehran reject Russia's offer to enrich uranium on Iran's behalf?
"Why -- as the [International Atomic Energy Agency's] most recent report shows -- is Iran continuing to enrich uranium, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions?" she continued. "Why, as the IAEA also suggests, are parts of Iran's nuclear program under the control of the Iranian military? Why is Iran continuing to deny international experts full access to its nuclear facilities? Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's just hard to imagine that there are innocent answers to these questions."
Rice repeatedly referred to U.S. efforts to strengthen Israel's security. At one point, she said the thought of Israelis living in fear and insecurity was "simply unacceptable.”
Rice also referred to statements by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that Israel should be erased from the map, and his convening of a conference that questioned the Holocaust. She also accused Iran of involvement in the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq.
Iran, she said, poses a threat both to Israel and the entire Middle East.
"A regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens, murders its neighbors’ citizens, and seeks to destroy a member of the United Nations should not be allowed to cross the nuclear threshold," Rice said. "As President [George W.] Bush told the Knesset, 'For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.'"
Ahmadinejad is currently in Rome for a three-day UN conference on the global food crisis, where he has criticized wealthy nations for subsidizing their own farmers at the expense of the poor.
While in Rome, Ahmadinejad also spoke of his dispute with Washington over Iran's nuclear program.
"Mr. Bush is very much interested in attacking Iran," Ahmadinejad said. "He has tried many times to come up with different excuses. He has failed each and every time. The issue of our nuclear energy is not a new excuse."
Ahmadinejad also said he expects Israel will "disappear" -- without Iran's help.
RFE/RL Iran Report
SUBSCRIBE For regular news and analysis on Iran by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Iran Report."