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Rice signals harder line on Iran

Secretary to meet Mideast, European leaders

From CNN State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel

LONDON, England (CNN) -- In a move likely to rattle Iran's rulers and frustrate allies in Europe, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has signaled that the Bush administration is adopting a harder line towards Iran -- but she has stopped short of explicitly calling for regime change.

"The Iranian people should have a chance to determine their own future," Rice told reporters en route to London on her first international trip as secretary of state.

"They should be no different from the Palestinians or Iraqis or other peoples around the world."

During his State of the Union address Wednesday night, U.S. President George W. Bush hinted that the United States would support any grassroots movement to change Iran's government, now run by hard-line Islamic clerics.

"And to the Iranian people, I say tonight, as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you," Bush said. (Full story)

The tougher U.S. talk comes only days after Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during her confirmation hearing, that administration's goal was to have a regime in Iran that was "responsive to concerns that we have about Iran's policies."

For months, Britain, France and Germany have been negotiating directly with Iran to freeze its suspected nuclear weapons program, which the Iranians insist is for peaceful purposes.

Recently, Iran agreed to temporarily suspend enrichment of uranium -- which can be used to develop to nuclear weapons -- while talks continue with Europe about possible trade deals.

The Europeans have tried to persuade Bush and Rice to take a more active role in the talks, convinced a U.S. offer to lift sanctions on Iran is a key to a permanent deal.

Rice's arrival in London comes after several days of unusually upbeat news out of Iraq, following Sunday's nationwide elections for a transitional national assembly.

During the flight to London, Rice told reporters one of the main objectives of her trip would be to discuss with European allies how to expand "freedom and liberties" to places where they have not existed before, citing as examples recent elections in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Ukraine.

In France Tuesday, Rice plans to deliver a major policy speech focusing on expanding democracy around the world.

During her week-long swing through Europe and the Middle East, Rice will also focus on laying the groundwork for the president's trip later this month.

The unspoken message of the trip is the desire the turn a new page in the trans-Atlantic relationship, after years of tension and animosity following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Rice will be making stops in London, Berlin, Warsaw, Ankara, Rome, Brussels and Luxembourg. She will also travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories in the hopes of re-invigorating the derailed peace process.

During her visit, the secretary expects to meet both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Those meetings will come on the eve of a summit between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders hosted by Egypt, the highest level meeting between the two sides since the start of the Palestinian intifada in the fall of 2000.

Before arriving in London, as a memento of her maiden voyage as secretary of state, Rice gave each member of the traveling press corps on board her plane a pocket world atlas because, she said, "We're going to travel a lot, and I wouldn't want anyone to feel lost."

 
 
 
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