Donald Rumsfeld says Iraqi
transition will take time

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Rumsfeld stressed that the United States had no intention of imposing an "American template" on the Iraqi people, but repeated his earlier comments that US troops would remain in Iraq as long as they were needed.

"The transition to democracy will take time. It will not be a smooth road," Rumsfeld said, adding that "trial and error" would be an inevitable part of the process.

"The efforts will not be perfect. Course corrections will be needed," he said, calling on all parties involved to exercise patience and restraint.

"If the Iraqi people take hold of their country ... and claim their place as responsible members of the international community, then the world could well have a new model for a successful transition from tyranny to self-reliance," he said.

Outlining guidelines for the US occupation authority currently administering Iraq, Rumsfeld said the top priorities were to return political authority to the Iraqi people "as soon as possible" and restore law and order.

Iran warning

While welcoming regional offers of cooperation, Rumsfeld said that "interference" in Iraq by its neighbours or their proxies "will not be permitted."

He singled out Iran warning it against seeking to mould the path of Iraq's social and political development.

"Indeed, Iran should be on notice, efforts to try to remake Iraq in Iran's image will be aggressively put down," he said.

Iran's moderate president,
Mohammed Khatami

His remarks came amid US charges that Tehran is seeking to influence events in Iraq, and that it is harbouring senior Al-Qaeda leaders and also developing nuclear weapons.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer had earlier said Iran had responded "insufficiently" to US demands that it crack down on Al-Qaeda and abandon its nuclear arms programme.

Rumsfeld said there have been discussions in Washington regarding Iran and who, if anyone they should deal with.

US options are limited however to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami or deal with the more conservative religious clerics, or not deal with either.

The argument for dealing with Khatami was that it would encourage "moderate" forces, said Rumsfeld.

"The argument against that is that he clearly is there at the whim of the clerics, and each time he moves toward very much reform, he gets his leash, the chain, pulled on him and he is stopped from doing that," he added.

But American newspaper reports have suggested that the White House is contemplating stirring up a popular revolt in Iran - a possible plan of action that drew a sharp criticism from Tehran on Tuesday.

"We hope logic and reason will prevail in the Americans' debates and that they will avoid taking an interventionist stance," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi told the French news agency AFP.