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Rice: Iran must halt nuclear program

Secretary of state says Iran could be referred to Security Council


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BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday that Iran must live up to its international obligations to halt its nuclear program or "the next steps are in the offing."

"And I think everybody understands what the 'next steps' mean," Rice told reporters after a meeting with NATO foreign ministers and European Union officials.

"It's obvious that if Iran cannot be brought to live up to its international obligations that, in fact, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) statutes would suggest that Iran has to be referred to the U.N. Security Council," she said.

Iran has refused to halt its nuclear program, saying it is only intended for peaceful energy production.

In recent months, negotiators from France, Britain and Germany have been trying to coax Iran to fully disclose the parameters of its nuclear program and abandon efforts to produce nuclear fuel in exchange for economic and political incentives.

"The message is there, the Iranians need to get that message, and we can certainly always remind them that there are other steps that the international community has at its disposal should they not be prepared to live up to these obligations," the secretary of state said.

She said that no timetable had been set.

"We continue to be in completely close consultation with the Europeans about how it is going, about whether progress is being made, about whether the Iranians seem to be moving toward living up to those obligations, and we'll just monitor and continue those discussions," she said.

In his state of the union address last week, President Bush singled out Iran as "the world's primary state sponsor of terror -- pursuing nuclear weapons," while depriving its people of freedom.

The administration made similar statements and threats in the run-up to its invasion of Iraq.

But Rice on Friday said that the question of using military force against the Tehran regime "is simply not on the agenda at this point in time."

'Time for diplomacy'

"We believe this is a time for diplomacy," the secretary said Wednesday, adding that human rights in Iran and Tehran's sponsoring of terror groups are also causes for concern.

"The message that we are giving to Iran: We do have diplomatic means at our disposal, we are doing this bilaterally as well as multilaterally, and I believe that a diplomatic solution is in our grasp, if we can have unity of purpose, unity of message with the Iranians and if the Iranians understand that the international community is quite serious about it living up to its obligations."

The IAEA has the authority to refer Iran to the Security Council, but the group's board of governors has refrained from doing so in seven meetings on the topic in the past two years.

Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the IAEA, said the governors have reaffirmed their support for the inspection process at each meeting "as long as inspectors are making progress and not being obstructed, and as long as Iran appears to be cooperating."

The board next meets February 28, Gwozdecky said.


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