Rice Plans Visit to Europe for More Talks on Iran

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit several European capitals in the coming days, heading to Britain, France and Germany as new talks are scheduled concerning Iran's suspect nuclear program, officials said Monday.

Foreign ministers from the five U.N. Security Council permanent members and Germany will meet in Berlin on Thursday for talks about Iran, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.

Germany's Foreign Ministry confirmed plans for the meeting.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice's trip will include stops in Berlin and Paris for meetings on Iran and other issues.

"Secretary Rice's trip to Berlin and Paris will provide an opportunity for her to continue her dialogue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac and other top officials," McCormack said.

The United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have been trying to agree on a statement that would express the Security Council's worries about Iran's program. Russia is believed to be reluctant to support a strong statement.

Tehran says it only wants to build nuclear power plants for civilian use, but the United States, Britain and other nations fear Iran wants to build an atomic bomb.

The Security Council has the power to impose economic and political sanctions.

Rice will visit northwestern England, touring sites that include Paul McCartney's former school, the British government said.

She will visit Liverpool and Blackburn on Friday and Saturday with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, a Foreign Office spokesman said on condition of anonymity, according to government policy.

Straw has represented Blackburn in Parliament since 1979. Rice's visit is meant to reciprocate a trip to Rice's hometown in Alabama last year.

In Liverpool, Rice and Straw will tour the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA)— based at McCartney's old school — and see the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

In Blackburn, they are due to visit "a school and major industrial site." Both diplomats are scheduled to speak on foreign policy at the town's Ewood Park soccer ground, home of the Blackburn Rovers.

In October, Rice hosted Straw in Birmingham, where they attended a memorial for the four black girls killed in a 1963 church bombing. They also went to an Alabama-Tennessee college football game.

Anti-war protesters, however, are ready to greet Rice with demonstrations about the 2003 Iraq invasion. Officials at the Stop the War Coalition have called for members to travel from across Britain to protest.