French President Sarkozy calls for stronger sanctions against Iran

Friday, September 21, 2007

PARIS -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy accused Iran directly of seeking nuclear weapons Thursday and suggested tougher sanctions against the Mideast nation.

Sarkozy, who has toughened the French position on Iran since taking office in May, called the possibility of an Iranian bomb "unacceptable."

Sarkozy was expected to discuss sanctions with other world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly next week.

If current sanctions are not sufficient, Sarkozy said, "I want stronger sanctions," he said in a televised interview. But he insisted that France does not want to see tensions lead to war.

The United States and other world powers suspect Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists it only wants nuclear technology to produce electricity. Two rounds of U.N. sanctions have failed to end the deadlock.

"It's a very difficult matter, but France does not want war," Sarkozy said. He said negotiations with Iran were still possible.

Sarkozy, known for his frank manner, dispensed with diplomatic niceties when referring to Iran's nuclear activities.

"Iran is trying to acquire a nuclear bomb. I say to the French, 'It's unacceptable,'" Sarkozy said.

"How can we convince [the Iranians] to renounce this project as the international community has convinced North Korea and Libya? Through discussion, dialogue, sanctions," he said.

Sarkozy stepped back slightly from comments by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Sunday that the world should "prepare for the worst" in Iran, specifically "war." Amid criticism, Kouchner later softened that, insisting he just wanted to underline the gravity of the Iranian nuclear problem.

"I would not have used the word 'war,'" Sarkozy said Thursday.

Kouchner, in a speech in Washington Thursday, expanded on the recommendation by Sarkozy for tightening sanctions.

"An Iran with a military nuclear capability is, for us, an unacceptable prospect," he said, speaking in English. "If sanctions without dialogue can only lead to confrontation, dialogue without sanctions is unfortunately tantamount to weakness."

Meanwhile, U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said that the United States expects agreement in the next few weeks on a resolution for new sanctions.

He said the U.S. hopes to prepare the groundwork for the new resolution at a meeting in Washington on Friday of political directors from six key nations that have been trying to negotiate with Iran -- the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany -- and at a follow-up ministerial meeting in New York next Friday.

"I expect the issue to be transferred to New York, to the Security Council, in the next several weeks," Khalilzad said in an interview with three reporters. "We expect that we would ... get an agreement in the next few weeks. That's our expectation. That's what we're working towards."

The U.S., and key allies France and Britain, face an uphill struggle, however, in winning Security Council approval because Russia said this week it opposed additional sanctions and China has called for more diplomacy rather than new punitive measures. Both Russia and China have veto power in the council.

Current U.N. sanctions call on all countries to stop supplying Iran with nuclear-related technology and freeze assets of many people and groups related to the program. Iranian arms exports are banned.

Iran has responded to the sanctions by expanding enrichment.

Khalilzad refused to discuss the new sanctions, saying only that they should pressure those in the nuclear program and leadership to comply with the council.

According to a senior U.S. official, the new measures would require all nations to inspect cargo en route to or from Iran and freeze assets of a number of Iranian banks. The official was interviewed this summer on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are still underway.

French officials this week floated plans for European sanctions against Iran beyond existing U.N. measures, which the Foreign Ministry called "insufficient."

Sarkozy's spokesman, David Martinon, said earlier Thursday that France wants European companies to be told not to seek new markets and to reduce their investments in Iran.

Martinon said such measures were being considered because it could take time for the U.N. Security Council to agree on tougher sanctions.

"They are recommendations which we hope each European Union state would address to their companies which are present or which envisage having a presence in Iran," he said at a news briefing.

Under the proposal, European companies would be asked to "at least not pitch for new markets in Iran," and financial institutions recommended to reduce their investments there, he said.

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