Iran Nuclear NewsU.S., Allies Huddle on Iran Nuke Question

U.S., Allies Huddle on Iran Nuke Question

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AP: A nuclear standoff with Iran and the upcoming constitutional vote in Iraq were among the topics for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visits with allies in Europe and for a surprise trip to Moscow. Associated Press

By ANNE GEARAN

AP Diplomatic Writer

PARIS – A nuclear standoff with Iran and the upcoming constitutional vote in Iraq were among the topics for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visits with allies in Europe and for a surprise trip to Moscow.

Lebanese politics also was on the agenda Friday for Rice’s meeting in Paris with President Jacques Chirac and French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy. The two nations cooperated last year on a United Nations resolution calling on Syria to pull troops and intelligence agents out of Lebanon, where Syria has dominated for nearly 30 years.

Although Syrian troops did depart during a spring of political upheaval in Lebanon, The United States and its allies say there is no doubt Syria is still trying to influence politics under a newly elected government.

Rice will see Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country’s foreign minister in Moscow on Saturday for talks on several Middle East issues, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday. The stop comes as Rice nears the close of an eight-nation zigzag across Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, France, Russia and Britain.

Russia handed the United States and European partners a subtle diplomatic victory last month when it abstained rather than vote no on a measure setting up possible United Nations punishment over a nuclear energy program in Iran the United States insists is a cover for bomb making.

Russia is an Iranian ally and is helping the Tehran regime set up part of its declared nuclear energy program. The United States is not trying to shut down that partnership, but does want Russia’s cooperation ahead of another meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in November.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday dismissed speculation that Moscow might join talks between Iran and European negotiators Britain, France and Germany on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.

“As for relations between the European trio and Russia, we are not expecting any change in these relations. There is no need for that,” Lavrov told reporters.

On Iraq, Rice’s Russia visit coincides with the crucial national referendum vote on a democratic constitution. Iraqi lawmakers this week approved a set of last-minute amendments to the constitution without a vote, sealing a compromise designed to win minority Sunni Arab support for the charter. Even so, it is not clear whether the charter will pass.

U.S. and Iraqi forces increased security across the country Thursday and prepared to impose an overnight curfew to try to reduce insurgent attacks aimed at wrecking the voting.

In Washington, President Bush sought to rally U.S. troops in Iraq ahead of the vote and to brace them for an expected surge in violence around the time of the vote.

“The enemy understands that a free Iraq would be a blow to their vision,” Bush said in a video conference with soldiers from the Army’s 42nd Infantry Division, based in Tikrit.

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