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. French FM urges Iran to suspend uranium enrichment
DOHA, June 18 (AFP) Jun 18, 2006
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy urged Iran on Sunday to suspend uranium enrichment if it wishes to avert United Nations sanctions over its disputed nuclear program.

Following an offer from world powers to resolve the row, "Iran must in return meet the repeated demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Security Council in particular by suspending its sensitive nuclear activities," he told reporters during a visit to Qatar.

"This would make possible a resumption of negotiations, and Security Council action would obviously no longer be necessary -- which would not be the case if the Iranians refused," Douste-Blazy said.

A suspension of enrichment is a non-negotiable precondition in a proposal from the five permanent UN Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany.

The proposal, presented to Iran on June 6, offers incentives and multilateral talks if Iran agrees to temporarily halt its sensitive nuclear activity and cooperate with the IAEA.

"The Iranian people would also benefit (from a positive Iranian response) by having access to modern, notably nuclear, civilian technologies," the French foreign minister said.

The offer to Iran is meant to "ensure security and stability in the Gulf region, hence (the security and stability of) Qatar, whose concerns are well understood by France," he said.

Douste-Blazy, who was speaking in the presence of his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, said that like Qatar, France favors a diplomatic settlement of the Iranian nuclear row.

He called on Tehran to "opt for cooperation and responsibility."

Iran said Sunday it would not accept any "preconditions" for fresh international talks over its disputed nuclear program, implicitly rejecting demands that the Islamic republic suspend uranium enrichment work.

"Dialogue must be without preconditions, because any precondition limits the framework of the dialogue and does not allow results to be achieved," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.

"The Islamic republic of Iran will not give up its rights. One cannot fix preconditions to hold negotiations without taking into account the position of the other party," he added.

Asefi did not explicitly mention enrichment, but Iranian officials invariably refer to the activity as a "right" enshrined by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The US and its Western allies believe the Iranian program is a cover for an attempt to build a nuclear weapon. Iran insists it is peaceful, arguing that it only wants to enrich uranium to make civilian reactor fuel and not material for a nuclear weapon.

On another topic, Douste-Blazy urged Syria to "take up the hand stretched out by the Lebanese" in order to "demarcate the borders" with Lebanon and "establish full diplomatic ties" with its neighbor.

Douste-Blazy, who arrived in Doha overnight for a short visit, earlier told business leaders that French firms were keen to do business in gas-rich Qatar, which plans investments of up to 130 billion dollars over eight years.

He told reporters he had conveyed to Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, a "message of profound esteem and sincere friendship" from French President Jacques Chirac.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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