December 4, 2007 / 9:31 PM / in 10 years

Rice says easing of pressure on Iran a "big mistake"

ROTA, Spain (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday it would be a “big mistake” to ease world pressure on Iran just because a U.S. intelligence report said Tehran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives to deliver closing remarks at the Middle East peace conference at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, November 27, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Young

Rice, who has spent years battling to get the backing of reluctant world powers such as Russia and China to punish Iran over its nuclear program, said she would continue to push for a third U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution against Tehran.

“The timing has got to be to continue to pursue the Security Council resolutions, to pursue the other pressures that we are bringing to bear, so that they don’t acquire the fissile material (to build a bomb),” Rice told reporters traveling with her to Ethiopia.

“I continue to see Iran as a dangerous power in international politics,” she added before a refueling stop in Rota, southern Spain.

Rice said she had called nearly all of her key counterparts dealing with the Iran issue since the National Intelligence Estimate was released on Monday, which contradicted the Bush administration’s earlier assertion that Iran was intent on building a bomb and likely undermined U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran.

The intelligence assessment’s finding that Iran had stopped its weapons program was “good news”, Rice said, but Tehran was still continuing to develop the technical means that could ultimately be used to build a bomb.

“If it (new U.S. intelligence) causes people to say: ‘Oh, then we don’t need to worry about what the Iranians are doing,’ I think then we will have made a big mistake,” Rice said.

“What they are doing is continuing the enrichment and reprocessing activities — in fact as far as we can tell, trying to perfect them,” she added.

In recent months, there have been rumblings that the Bush administration is planning military action against Iran and there has been a noticeable rise in rhetoric, with President George W. Bush insisting in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three.

Rice said the results of the intelligence assessment meant international diplomatic pressure on Iran was working and must continue.

“There is not time to stop and say we don’t need the diplomacy. What I am going to say to my colleagues and have been saying to them is, look: we have got the right strategy.”

She repeated a U.S. offer to Iran to give up sensitive uranium enrichment and reprocessing work and sit down with the United States and others. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful power generating purposes.

“I would say to the Iranians: take the opening that has been there for you (Iran) to suspend work on the fuel cycle, which is what everybody is worried about. That’s always been the issue here. Let’s sit down and talk about how you can have a civil nuclear program that doesn’t raise the proliferation risk.”

After her one-day visit to Ethiopia, Rice is set to go on to Brussels for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers that will likely include a discussion with key partners over Iran, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Asked whether she thought there would be a weakening of resolve to act against Iran because of the intelligence estimate, Rice said people must take time to understand the “detail and nuance” of the document and then they would want to continue with the current diplomatic strategy.

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