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Rice to visit Europe for talks on Iran

Rice to visit Europe for talks on IranAgence France Presse – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Germany, France and Britain this week for talks on the UN deadlock over Iran’s nuclear program, a State Department official said Monday.

Word of her trip came as London announced that the foreign ministers of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — plus Germany would meet Thursday in Berlin to discuss Iran.

Rice will confer with officials of the so-called EU-3 at a time when talks have bogged down within the Security Council on a statement seeking to call Iran to account for its suspected efforts to develop a nuclear bomb.

"Secretary Rice will be traveling to the UK, France and Germany, leaving this Wednesday and returning Sunday," said the State Department official, who asked not to be named.

He said the discussions would cover a wide range of topics "but I am sure Iran will be a major feature of it." The three European nations have taken the lead in efforts to talk Tehran out of developing nuclear weapons.

The German government last week confirmed Rice would meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a stopover in Berlin on Thursday.

She was invited to Britain by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who visited Rice’s homestate of Alabama in October. It was not immediately clear whom the chief US diplomat would meet in France.

Rice’s trip comes among signs of growing impatience in Washington with the lack of a firm response by the international community to Iran, which insists its nuclear program is for strictly peaceful puproses.

Negotiations to persuade Iran to renounce any nuclear arms ambitions hit a dead end in January when Tehran announced it was resuming sensitive research on uranium enrichment that it had suspended for two years.

The United States succeeded last month in persuading the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to refer the matter to the Security Council, which has the authority to impose eventual sanctions.

But Russia and China, two of the council’s five veto-wielding permanent members, have opposed language in a presidential statement that would even hint at punitive measures against their ally and key trading partner.

After weeks of expressing confidence that the council would eventually agree on a text, Rice started last week to vent at the slow pace of negotiations.

"There is no time for delay in taking on this issue," she told a news conference on Thursday. "There can’t be any stalling. The international community has got to act."

Rice called her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Friday to try to end the impasse and said their negotiators would work through the weekend to try to come up with compromise language.

"Nobody believes that Iran should have enrichment and reprocessing capability on its territory," Rice told the "Fox News Sunday" program. But she conceded "there are some tactical issues about how best to express that."

Efforts to thrash out a statement on Iran have centered on the council’s five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — plus Germany.

Rice told NBC television Sunday that once agreement was reached on a statement, Washington might seek a ministerial meeting of the P-5 plus Germany "to talk about charting a course forward."