ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, working to defend U.S. strategy on Iran, questioned the openness of the Iranian government on Wednesday after its president said a new U.S. intelligence review concluding his country has stopped developing nuclear weapons amounts to ``a final shot'' against Tehran's critics.
Rice declined to respond to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's remark, but told reporters in the Ethiopian capital that the public release of the National Intelligence Estimate showed the Bush administration was committed to transparent democracy, while Iran was not.
``I am not going to comment on that comment except to say that what the National Intelligence Estimate shows, and the transparency with which the administration released it, is what it means to live in a democracy and I hope one day that the people of Iran will live in a democracy too,'' she said.
Earlier Wednesday, Ahmadinejad said the conclusions of the report, which said that Iran's nuclear weapons development program has been halted because of international pressure, amounted to ``a declaration of victory for the Iranian nation against the world powers over the nuclear issue.''
Rice said that the latest U.S. intelligence estimate did not mean that Washington no longer considered Tehran a threat and urged the international community not to back down at the U.N. Security Council on pressuring Iran to halt its activities that could produce the ingredients for an atomic weapon.
``It is the very strong view of the administration that the Iranian regime remains a problematic and dangerous regime and that the international community must continue to unite around the Security Council resolutions that have passed,'' she said.
``Iran needs to stop enrichment and reprocessing activities because those enriching and reprocessing activities permit, if they are perfected, a state to acquire fissile material for a nuclear weapon,'' Rice said.
In addition to her public comments, Rice is working the phones to defend the Bush administration's strategy on Iran and to explain a new U.S. intelligence assessment that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, a startling turnabout that contradicted past U.S. conclusions.
Rice told reporters Tuesday on her way to Ethiopia to meet with African leaders that it would be a ``big mistake'' to ease any diplomatic pressure on Iran despite the new U.S. findings. ``It doesn't mean you should take the pressure off,'' she said. ``It puts a premium on diplomatic efforts. I continue to see Iran as a dangerous power in international politics. At this moment, it doesn't appear to have an active weaponization program. That frankly is good news. But if it causes people to say, 'Oh, well, then we don't need to worry about what the Iranians are doing,' I think we will have made a big mistake.''
Rice has been telephoning foreign ministers of U.S. allies such as Germany, Britain and France, as well as China and Russia, which have blocked a recent U.S. push to punish Iran with new sanctions, since Monday's report by U.S. intelligence agencies about Iran's nuclear program.
Rice spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday and expects to see him later this week at a NATO meeting in Brussels, where she will have to defend the continuing U.S. effort to force another round of international sanctions on Iran.
``What I am going to say to my colleagues is, 'Look, we have got the right strategy,'' Rice said.
Her efforts are in advance of President Bush's planned trip to the Mideast early next month, where Iran's nuclear program is likely to be a topic of discussion.
Rice said it may take some time for U.S. allies to understand the administration's new conclusions on Iran, but she said there should be great concern still about the Islamic republic's continuing preprocessing and enrichment of uranium, which Tehran insists is only for civilian energy production. Such an enrichment program also could lead to nuclear weapons production.
``We need to do everything we can to stop them from being able to perfect this enrichment and reprocessing program,'' she said.
Rice urged nations such as China and Russia not to harden their stance against a new round of sanctions, arguing that the fact that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 because of international pressure shows that diplomacy works.
``We know that pressure has worked in the past and it caused them to do something very important,'' Rice said. ``Now let's use our collective efforts to cause them to take the next important step,'' she added, referring to a potential halt to its enrichment of uranium.
Rice said she wants officials from other countries to try to understand the nuance of the new U.S. intelligence assessment.
``People need the opportunity to absorb what they've heard,'' she said. ``We have been completely transparent about what the intelligence assessment says. And people need a chance to read it. When they do that and when they read it in its detail and nuance, they will be able to see the points that I have made.''