OpinionIran in the World PressRice enlists support for Syria, Iran showdowns

Rice enlists support for Syria, Iran showdowns

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Reuters: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mobilized support among major powers for diplomatic showdowns over the next few weeks with Syria and Iran on a trip that ended on Sunday. Reuters

By Saul Hudson

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mobilized support among major powers for diplomatic showdowns over the next few weeks with Syria and Iran on a trip that ended on Sunday.

Over three days, Rice held talks with the leaders of France, Russia and Britain — all holders of vetoes at the U.N. Security Council – on how to make the two U.S. foes meet U.N. security demands.

In a show of diplomacy that reflected the Bush administration’s efforts this year to consult partners more, Rice crisscrossed Europe seeking to build a common front against Syria’s suspected support for militants in Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Rebuffed by Russia on Iran, she did not win all the support she wanted.

Rice used several one-on-one meetings to prepare the ground for concerted pressure at the Security Council this month against Syria and at the U.N. nuclear watchdog in November against Iran.

A U.N. investigator is due to report his findings in the assassination of an anti-Syrian ex-prime minister of Lebanon on Friday.

Diplomats and Lebanese political sources expect some Syrian officials to be named in the report — and Rice wants a robust response.

After a roughly 40-minute meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that focused on Syria, Rice said the council must “let the chips fall wherever they may.”

Lavrov’s fluent English would have allowed him to understand the U.S. message: Russia must not block action against Syria, with which it has military and commercial ties, if the report shows that Damascus has responsibility in the February car bomb.

Lavrov said Russia had agreed to cooperate with the United States in its response to the report.

Rice signaled she will also pressure Damascus over what the United States says is its support for militants in Lebanon.

She repeatedly warned that she wanted the full implementation of a U.N. resolution whose main outstanding issue is the disarming of the armed groups.

After talks in Paris, her counterpart, Philippe Douste-Blazy, said France as a co-sponsor with the United States supports the resolution “more than ever.”

Syria denies it supports militants or that it was involved in the assassination.

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But Rice needs more time if she is going to build support against Iran.

Russia rejected her appeal that Moscow back a U.S. drive to have the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency report Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions over suspicions that it is pursuing a nuclear bomb.

Iran says its nuclear programs are solely to generate electricity.

With the international appetite for a council referral unclear, Britain and France prefer to wait for wider support before pressing for the move, said a diplomat familiar with the discussions.

Faced with an IAEA vote November 24 on Iran that could involve referral to the council, Rice said there was time for Iran to show negotiations with Britain, France and Germany could work.

Her spokesman Sean McCormack said the countries were “unified” on Syria but they were “at a different stage” with Iran, watching for signs that Tehran wanted to resume talks.

“We’ll see what they do between now and the end of November,” he said.

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