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Rice blasts Iran, says U.S. will pursue tough diplomacy

  • Story Highlights
  • Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaffirms U.S. commitment to Israel's security
  • She calls Hezbollah "power-hungry extremists," says Hamas to remain isolated
  • Rice says U.S. relationship with Israel will help defend against Iran
  • The U.S. is pursuing tough diplomacy against Iran in clash over nuclear weapons
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From Elise Labott
CNN State Department Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blasted Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas on Tuesday and called the United States' bond with Israel "unshakable."

In a speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, Rice said the United States' commitment to Israel was "unwavering."

Rice said President Bush had kept his promise to remain committed to Israel's security, and she characterized the alliance between the two nations as "one of the most vital relationships" the United States has.

"We reject any attempt to reduce it to crude conspiracy theories," she said. "After 60 years, Israel has no better friend in the world than the United States of America."

She called for the return of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was captured by Gaza militants nearly two years ago in a cross-border raid.

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said his Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group has put forward a list of 350 Palestinians it wants released from Israeli jails in exchange for Shalit, but he blamed Israel for the breakdown of talks.

Rice said cooperation on missile defense with Israel would help the United States defend against Iran, along with going after Iranian agents in Iraq and continuing to impose sanctions on the regime.

In addressing perceived threats posed by Iran, Rice said that the United States is pursing tough diplomacy.

"For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," she said, echoing a statement made by President Bush in his recent speech to the Israeli Knesset.

"Iran is dangerous, but it has vulnerabilities," she said. "We can and we must exploit these vulnerabilities."

Rice criticized Iran for refusing to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, despite claims from its leaders that they don't want a nuclear weapon, and accused the country of continuing to enrich uranium.

"It's just hard to imagine there are innocent answers to those questions," she said, cautioning that the world must put a "check on regional ambitions on this extremist and dangerous state."

She said there must be a path open for negotiations if Iran proves willing to give up its nuclear ambitions, adding that Iran "cannot talk while continuing to pursue a nuclear weapon under the cover of talk."

She characterized Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based militant group, as "selfish and power-hungry extremists" who don't care about their fellow Lebanese and impose the will of Iran and Syria with their backing.

She said the United States supports Turkey's efforts to negotiate between Israel and Syria.

"The key is to pursue all avenues of peace but maintain a focus on the Palestinian track," she said.

Rice said the United States supports moderate Palestinian leaders and said Palestinians have a chance for a better future.

"Their fight is our fight, and we cannot be neutral in their struggle," she said. She called the situation in Gaza "troubling" but added that the U.S. policy of isolating Hamas will remain in place.

Rice acknowledged that the current climate for peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians "isn't perfect" but said it remains the best chance in years to reach an accord.

She said U.S. officials believe there is a chance for a peace deal but suggested that such goals were "beyond the current leadership" and said future administrations will support it.

She said the United States would defend against any threat posed to Israel. "Israel can be bold in its pursuit for peace, for America is fully behind her and is fully committed to her security."

All About American Israel Public Affairs CommitteeGilad ShalitIranHamas

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