BRUSSELS, Belgium Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won support from European allies Thursday for new U.N. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
NATO foreign ministers agreed to stay the course in seeking fresh measures at the United Nations to persuade Iran to stop uranium enrichment and reprocessing despite a new U.S. intelligence report that concluded the country halted it nuclear weapons ambitions in 2003.
At a working dinner in Brussels, the alliance's headquarters, the ministers accepted the Bush administration argument that Iran remains a threat and needs to be treated as such, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht told reporters.
"On Iran, everybody around the table agreed we should not change our position," he said after the dinner at which Rice presented Washington's position.
Earlier Thursday, ahead of Rice's meetings in Belgium, the leaders of both France and Germany expressed similar sentiments, calling for a two-pronged approach of pressure and negotiations with Iran.
"I think we are in a process and that Iran continues to pose a danger," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Paris at a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in response to the new American findings that were released Monday.
Sarkozy, who supports Washington's view, said he backs new sanctions. "The threat exists," he said.
In Brussels, Rice held talks with European and Russian officials to bolster the U.S. case in her first face-to-face sessions with world powers that are considering new sanctions since the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate was made public.
"I don't see that the NIE changes the course that we're on," Rice told reporters as she flew to Belgium for talks that will include discussions with former Cold War foe Russia, which, along with China, has resisted new Iran sanctions.
"In fact, I would think given the assessment that Iran is indeed susceptible to coordinated international pressure that (this) is the right approach," she said, referring to the NIE finding that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program due to intense diplomatic activity.
"This suggests that you ought to keep up that international pressure," Rice said.
Ahead of formal alliance meetings today, Rice met Thursday with the foreign ministers of Italy, Belgium and Britain, as well as European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
Iran was a major topic in all of those discussions and will be again today when she sees Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps the figure most suspicious of the U.S. policy on Iran, and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Rice also sees Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Israeli officials maintain that Iran still is working aggressively to build nuclear arms, despite the new U.S. conclusions. The Islamic regime in Tehran strongly opposes Israel's existence and frequently boasts of its ability to strike the Jewish state with long-range missiles.
Bush administration officials concede that their abrupt abandonment of that point could hurt their efforts to impose more sanctions on Iran to increase pressure for it to cease uranium enrichment and reprocessing. Tehran insists it is enriching uranium only for peaceful energy production; but the U.S. notes that it also could produce the ingredients for a bomb.
Discussions on that point, between the U.S. and the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany in the "P5 plus one" grouping, had been on hold pending consideration of the new intelligence.
Ahead of the NATO decision, Rice said she would impress on her counterparts the need for Iran to disclose the nature of its alleged secret nuclear weapons program prior to 2003, returning to a theme addressed Wednesday by President Bush.
"We should also start to look at ways for Iran to account for what was happening before 2003," she said, without elaborating on what type of mechanism she had in mind, if any.