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From Wolf Blitzer

Wolf Blitzer Reports

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- During a news conference with British Foreign Minister Jack Straw on Friday, newly sworn-in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked by a reporter if she could "envision circumstances during President Bush's second administration in which the U.S. would attack Iran?"

"The question is simply not on the agenda at this point," Rice answered. "We have diplomatic means to do this. Iran is not immune to the changes going on in this region."

The question that helped kick off her European journey is expected to follow her every step of the way -- given widespread concern in Europe that Iran might become the next U.S. target in the Middle East.

That concerned intensified following the president's State of the Union address, during which the president said, "And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."

But the Bush administration's strategy for dealing with Iran's ayatollah leaders is very different than it was for Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

With the Iraqi dictator and the U.S.-led allegation that he had stockpiled significant quantities of weapons of mass destruction, President Bush ordered a full-scale invasion.

That is not something, officials say, Bush is now considering for Iran. For one thing, the U.S. military is already overstretched.

But there are other options.

Top Bush administration officials are convinced Iran is clandestinely trying to build a nuclear bomb -- despite its public denials. President Bush also has branded Iran "the world's primary state sponsor of terror."

In dealing with this, administration officials say the president's strategy is to use European and international diplomatic and economic pressure on the Iranians to delay for as long as possible the development of a bomb. They also hope that Iranian dissidents and reformers will in the meantime topple the regime in Tehran.

In the end, this strategy might not work. That is why, military and intelligence officials say, there are contingency plans for what's being described as precision air strikes to try to take out Iran's nuclear facilities. That's easier said than done; they say, given the Iranian construction of deep, underground facilities that are spread out widely around the country. Intelligence sources say they may not even know where they all are.

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