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Rice Wants Quick Vote on Iran Referral

ecretary of State Condoleezza RiceThe Associated Press – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants a vote as soon as possible on whether to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program and is working to line up support.
"We’ve got to finally demonstrate to Iran that it can’t with impunity just cast aside the just demands of the international community," Rice said Sunday while traveling to Africa for the inauguration of Liberia’s president-elect, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

In phone calls over the weekend, Rice discussed Iran’s recent nuclear program movements with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and several foreign ministers whose countries are members of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

The agency has found Iran in violation of an international treaty intended to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology. But it has not yet voted on whether to refer Iran to the Security Council, where it could face possible sanctions.

British, French and German foreign ministers last week called for the agency to hold a special session to vote on the referral.

"I think it ought to be as soon as possible," Rice said. Waiting for the agency’s planned meeting in March, she said, would allow Iran a window that it could exploit.

"The Iranians will try to take advantage of it to start to throw chaff and to obfuscate," Rice said.

Rice won’t say whether the United States has enough votes for the matter to reach the Security Council or whether she is confident that tough sanctions against Iran can be secured thereafter.

Two of Rice’s lieutenants were meeting in Vienna and London on Monday with ambassadors for the agency’s board of governors and with European allies in hopes building support for the U.S. position.

The backing of two major countries who hold veto powers, Russia and China, is uncertain. China’s foreign minister was to attend the Liberian inauguration but Rice was not expected to formally discuss Iran with him.

"Whatever the numbers of the vote, I don’t think there’s any doubt that people are quite clear that Iran has crossed a threshold," Rice said.

The standoff with Iran over its nuclear efforts has intensified in recent weeks with the country’s new hardline president growing increasingly defiant despite mounting international pressure.

Iran has removed U.N. seals at its main uranium enrichment plant, resumed research on nuclear fuel after a two-year hiatus and, most recently, threatened to block short-notice U.N. inspections of its facilities if the country is hauled before the Security Council.

Rice said she doesn’t believe that Iran — a country used to a lot of trade — can withstand the kind of isolation that other countries have faced when referred to the Security Council.

"They’re putting a lot at risk here," she said.

The international community, Rice said, has tried to negotiate with Iran to reach an agreement that would have lessened the nuclear proliferation risk while allowing Iran to develop nuclear energy.

"The Iranians have done nothing but throw all of this aside," Rice said. "They’re isolated. They are completely isolated."

The United States contends Iran wants to build nuclear weapons. But Iran claims its nuclear program is intended solely for energy production and that its ambitions are purely peaceful. However, Iran also has argued that it has a right to enrich uranium, which can produce fuel for nuclear bombs.

Rice also reiterated her desire to address the Iran situation diplomatically, rather than militarily.

"We’ve said all along the president keeps all of his options, always keeps all of his options open," she said. "The course that we’re on is a diplomatic course."