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Rice: 'Robust' talks needed with Iran
Updated: 2006-01-31 08:52

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that "robust" negotiations with Iran are needed to deal with its resumed nuclear program, as European ministers' talks aimed at breaking the diplomatic deadlock appeared to fail.

Rice said the international community agreed that Iran should not have the means of developing a nuclear weapon, and she criticized Iran's response to Russian attempts to mediate in the standoff.

"We believe that there is a lot of life left in the diplomacy," Rice said. "After all, going to the Security Council is not the end of diplomacy. It's just diplomacy in a different, more robust context."

She spoke ahead of a meeting in London with officials from the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Germany, to discuss the possibility of referring Tehran to the Security Council.

Rice: 'Robust' talks needed with Iran
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, left, looks on as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Monday Jan. 30, 2006. [AP]
"We have a lot of agreement among the international community. Iran shouldn't be able to get a nuclear weapon. It must suspend its nuclear activities and go back to negotiations," said Rice.

Iran broke U.N. seals at a uranium enrichment plant Jan. 10 and said it would resume nuclear fuel research after a two-year freeze. Tehran said the research would involve what it called limited uranium enrichment, but the action raised fears Tehran was using its pursuit of atomic power as a front for a nuclear weapons program.

European foreign ministers met with Iran's deputy nuclear negotiator in Brussels on Monday but said they failed to make progress.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said the talks had achieved nothing, but that Europe would again call on Iran to suspend all nuclear enrichment-related activities before a final decision is made on referring the matter to the Security Council.

"Iran has challenged the entire international community," said Douste-Blazy. "The international community has to respond to that challenge with firmness and efficiency."

In a draft EU statement, ministers said negotiations could still lead to a resolution but would "require a cooperative and transparent approach" by the Iranians.

The EU said a Russian proposal to enrich uranium and send the fuel back to Iran, allowing more oversight of the process, could be the solution, but Rice has questioned the drawn out negotiations over the offer.

"This has now been several months. So when the Iranians now express interest in the Russian proposal, one has to wonder if that isn't because they now face the prospect of referral to the Security Council," Rice said.

She said the international community should be wary of offering Iran more time to consider the plan, pointing to the failure of previous negotiations.

"They responded by breaking their moratorium, ending negotiations and breaking the seals on the equipment so they could enrich and reprocess," said Rice. "So I think we've had our answer from the Iranian government."

In an interview with Saudi-owned Al-Arabiyah TV, Rice added that she is "quite certain that if the international community really stands firm and has a coherent approach that this march toward a nuclear weapon for Iran can be arrested because Iran has a lot to lose from isolation in the international community."

The 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, was to meet on Thursday at its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, to discuss possible Security Council referral.

In Vienna, a diplomat familiar with the Iran probe said IAEA inspectors were allowed access to the Lavizan-Shian site — believed to be the repository of equipment bought by the Iranian military that could be used in a nuclear weapons program. The diplomat demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential information about the status of the IAEA probe.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in Tehran on Sunday that IAEA inspectors trying to gain access to the site for more than a year had been given the information they sought.

The United States alleges Iran had conducted high-explosive tests that could have a bearing on developing nuclear weapons at the site.

The State Department said in 2004 that Lavizan's buildings had been dismantled and topsoil had been removed in attempts to hide nuclear weapons-related experiments.

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