Rice defends additional U.S. sanctions on Iran

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday defended expanded U.S. sanctions on Iran and downplayed any rift with Russia over the policy.

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“The international community cannot just sit idly by until we face unpalatable choices. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranian regime would be deeply destabilizing in the world’s most volatile region,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show.

The United States on Thursday slapped new sanctions on Iran and accused its Revolutionary Guard of spreading weapons of mass destruction.

Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the move, saying it would force Tehran into a corner over its nuclear program. “Running around like a mad man with a blade in one’s hand is not the best way to solve such problems,” he said.

The White House also played down disagreements with Russia on Iran and dismissed concerns raised by critics that the administration’s escalating rhetoric against Tehran mirrored the run up to the Iraq war.

“I don’t think there are any parallels to draw at all,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

“We’re committed to a diplomatic process in dealing with Iran,” he said. “We would never take options off the table, but the diplomatic process is what we want to move forward with.”

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Fratto said the United States has a “complicated” and “complex” relationship with Russia in which they do not always see eye-to-eye but work together on issues like fighting terrorism.

“There are things that we are going to agree with, there are things we will not agree on, we try to find ways to work together,” he said.

Washington imposed sanctions on more than 20 Iranian companies, banks and individuals as well as the defense ministry, hoping to increase pressure on Tehran to stop uranium enrichment and curb its “terrorist” activities.

Rice acknowledged that Washington and Moscow had some disagreement over tactics and timing regarding Iran, but she said the two countries shared the same basic goal of a non-nuclear Iran.

“We clearly have the same view of this,” Rice said. “The Russians have no desire to have a nuclear-armed Iran in their neighborhood. After all, Moscow is a lot closer to Iran than the United States.”

Some U.S. allies and Democratic critics of President George W. Bush’s policies say Washington is being too bellicose. Rice repeated that she is willing to negotiate if Iran suspends uranium enrichment activities first.

“We have offered a pathway of negotiations,” Rice said.