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. US backs European effort on Iran but keeping options open: Cheney
WASHINGTON (AFP) Feb 06, 2005
The United States backs a diplomatic effort by European nations to try to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program but has not "eliminated any alternative," US Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday.

"I think there's a good-faith effort under way by our European allies to try to resolve this issue diplomatically. We support that effort," the vice president said in an interview with Fox News Sunday, his first appearance on a Sunday morning television talk show in a year-and-a-half.

"The Iranians, I think, should do the right thing, and they should, in fact, agree to transparency, reassure the outside world that they are not trying to acquire nuclear weapons," Cheney said.

"(The Iranians) know very well that we do not want them to acquire nuclear weapons, nor does the civilized world," he said. "I can't think of anybody who's eager to see the Iranians develop that kind of capability.

"Now, we are moving to support efforts to resolve it diplomatically," Cheney said.

"If this process breaks down, the next step probably is (to) go to back to the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and ultimately refer to the United Nations Security Council for the imposition of international sanctions on Iran.

"There are a number of steps here to be considered. We have not eliminated any alternative at this point, but we obviously are seriously pursuing diplomatic resolution of this problem," Cheney said.

Cheney did not elaborate on the alternatives. Washington has not ruled out using military force against Tehran although US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week that "the question is simply not on the agenda at this point."

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked in an interview on ABC whether there were US military operations going on in Iran right now, said: "Not to my knowledge."

In an interview with CNN, Rumsfeld added that Iran was "some years away" from developing nuclear weapons "according to the (intelligence) estimates, but I don't know if the estimates are correct or not."

Britain, France and Germany struck an agreement with Iran in November to suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities in return for talks on trade, security and technology. The Iran-EU talks are to resume Tuesday in Geneva, according to diplomats.

Cheney, asked whether he believed Iranian claims that Tehran had stopped uranium-enrichment, said: "I just don't know. I can't say with absolute certainty they have.

"They have been working with the French, the British and the Germans, and we support that effort, an effort to try to resolve diplomatically, to get the Iranians to give up their aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons," he said.

"It all turns on this question of whether or not they should be enriching uranium. They claim they're doing it only for peaceful purposes, although there's some evidence to suggest that they have military aspirations and they're trying to acquire nuclear weapons," he said.

Cheney repeated US charges that Iran sponsored terrorism and said Washington was seeking to promote democracy in the Islamic Republic.

"It's a regime, obviously, that we've got major problems with, not only because of their search for nuclear weapons, (but) also the fact they've been a prime state sponsor of terror over the years, the prime movers behind Hezbollah," he said.

"So there are a lot of reasons why the Iranians are on the list of problem states. I think, if you look at that region of the world, a potential source for instability clearly is Iran if they continue on the course they're on," Cheney said.

On democratic reform, Cheney said: "They have held a number of elections. Unfortunately, that most recent series of elections had been tainted, if you will, by the ruling power."

Referring to remarks about promoting democracy in Iran made by US President George W. Bush in his State of the Union speech last week, Cheney said: "The president wanted to make it clear that the United States supports the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom and democracy.

"We want to encourage the reformers, if you will, inside Iran to work to build a true democracy, one that doesn't vest enormous power, as this one does, in the unelected mullahs, who, we believe, are a threat to peace and stability in the region."

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