LONDON, Feb 6: Diplomacy and unity among the world's "great democracies" are key to ensuring Iran meets its international obligations, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview broadcast on Sunday.
Iran had become a major obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East and must be prevented from developing nuclear weapons, she told BBC television.
"We believe dealing with the Iranians diplomatically is the key and that is why I am here for discussions," Ms Rice told the BBC on Friday at the start of her first diplomatic mission to Europe and the Middle East since taking office.
"We do need a strong message to Iran. We need a united front on the Iranian nuclear programme. We need us great democracies to tell the Iranian people that they deserve a better future than the present they currently have," she said.
Omitting any mention of a possible military answer to the Iranian question, Ms Rice emphasised that Washington's policy for the time being was diplomacy.
"We believe this is a time for diplomacy, this is a time to muster our considerable influence... to bring great changes in the world," she said.
The Iranian government was a chief fund provider of terror groups that are trying to prevent peace between Israel and the Palestinians, according to Washington's chief diplomat, who was in Israel on Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and was due to meet Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Monday.
"Iran is a destabilising force in the international system and we need unity of purpose, unity of message to Iran to stop those activities," Ms Rice said.
Washington would support "any effort to get Iran to live up to its international obligations that can succeed," she said.
"We believe the Iranians are being offered an opportunity and they ought to take it."
The question of US policy on Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme and bleak human rights record has dogged the secretary of state during her sprint through eight European capitals, Israel and the West Bank.
She has tried to ease European fears the Americans might launch a pre-emptive military strike and has warded off queries on whether Washington is officially seeking regime change in Tehran.
Cheney: The United States backs a diplomatic effort by European nations to try to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear programme but has not "eliminated any alternative," US Vice- President Dick Cheney said on 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 on 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," Mr 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," Mr 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," Mr Cheney said.
Mr Cheney did not elaborate on the alternatives. Washington has not ruled out using military force against Tehran although US Secretary of State Condoleezza Ms Rice said last week that "the question is simply not on the agenda at this point."-AFP