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. Europe united on Iran as Bush refuses to rule out military action
PARIS (AFP) Jan 20, 2005
If the Iraq war divided Europe, the continent is united in calling for continued negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program after US President George W. Bush refused to rule out possible military action.

"In the view of the German government, there is no alternative to these discussions," chief government spokesman Bela Anda told reporters in Berlin, a view echoed by officials in Paris.

"These talks are being held with our German and British partners, in perfect consultation with the United States and our other European partners," said a spokeswoman for the French foreign ministry.

The European Union's "big three" -- Britain, France and Germany -- are in the midst of crucial talks with Iran aimed at finding a long-term solution that would assuage international fears about Tehran's controversial nuclear program.

Their efforts have led to the temporary suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment program.

Iran vehemently denies it is developing nuclear weapons, insisting that its activities are merely directed at generating electricity, but Washington claims that the program is instead a cover for the development of the atomic bomb.

US President George W. Bush said Monday that he could not rule out a resort to military force if the United States failed to persuade Iran to abandon its efforts.

"The fact that the Americans are not excluding the use of military force is not new in principle, but doesn't necessarily indicate that there are concrete attack plans," said Karsten Voigt, Germany's point man for German-US relations.

Analysts and diplomats even suggested that Europe and the United States could be working together to keep up pressure on the Islamic republic.

"The United States has a hard line but I think its ultimate line is to have the European efforts succeed. It is a good cop-bad cop approach," said an Asian diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"I would say that dangling a stick can be an effective diplomatic tool when used in conjunction with a few carrots," said another diplomat close to the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, referring to the different EU and US tactics, told the Financial Times: "Those who said we'd be split apart by the Iranians are wrong."

"Those who said we could not build up a degree of trust with the Iranians -- at the same time as building up a strong consensus with the US and the non-aligned countries -- are wrong," Straw added.

This week, US secretary of state-designate Condoleezza Rice called for world action to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons, and repeated a threat to haul Tehran before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

She labelled Iran as one of six "outposts of tyranny" around the world, giving Tehran a second infamous distinction. Bush named the Islamic republic as part of an "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address.

And a report published in the New Yorker magazine said US commandos had been operating inside Iran since mid-2004 to search out potential targets for attack.

Straw dismissed the report written by award-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, saying: "You will always find somebody in Washington thinking about something. That's how things are there."

In Brussels, the European Commission said it would pursue diplomatic negotiations as long as possible.

"The goal is a militarily non-nuclear Iran. We are as Europeans working through a process of engagement to attain that goal... We hope that there will be no need to consider any other option," said spokeswoman Emma Udwin.

"The EU and the US have the same objective in Iran, but have looked at different ways of attaining the goal," she added.

Officials in Russia and Turkey also backed the EU approach.

Caroline Pailhe, an analyst at the Information and Research Group on Peace and Security (GRIP) in Brussels, said she could envision eventual US military action, in the form of "a few bombing missions that would last a few hours and eliminate certain sensitive sites".

But Iranian President Mohammed Khatami on Thursday warned the United States against such a course of action, saying in Uganda: "If any country tries to invade our country, we are strong enough to defend ourselves."

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