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NATO supports sanctions on Iran

Rice is talking with nations about curbing Tehran's nuclear plans despite the NIE report.

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won support from European allies yesterday 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. The decision came despite the release Monday of a new U.S. intelligence report that concluded the country halted its nuclear weapons program 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 yesterday, ahead of Rice's meetings in Belgium, the leaders of 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 news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in response to the American findings.

Sarkozy also sees threat

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 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.

More meetings

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 U.S. policy on Iran, and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Rice also will meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Israeli officials maintain that Iran still is working aggressively to build nuclear arms. 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 officials concede that the new intelligence findings could hurt the chances of using more sanctions to pressure Iran into ending its uranium enrichment. Tehran insists it is enriching uranium only for peaceful energy production, but the United States notes that the process also could produce the ingredients for a bomb.