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. Iran after nukes, but we don't want war: Sarkozy
PARIS, Sept 20 (AFP) Sep 20, 2007
President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted Thursday that France did not want a war with Iran over its nuclear programme, while directly accusing Tehran of seeking to develop atomic weapons.

"Iran is trying to obtain an atomic bomb," Sarkozy charged in a prime-time interview on two major television networks. "That is unacceptable and I tell the French people it is unacceptable."

Iran has repeatedly denied it is seeking an atomic weapon and insists its nuclear programme is solely for power generation.

France and the other UN Security Council's permanent members plus Germany meet Friday to discuss a third package of tighter sanctions to punish Iran for not complying with inspections from its IAEA nuclear watchdog.

The Iranian nuclear question "is an extremely difficult affair, but France does not want a war," Sarkozy said, distancing himself from comments by his Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner at the weekend.

Kouchner caused a diplomatic storm in an interview Sunday when he said "we have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war."

"I would not have used the word war, and he himself has explained his comments," Sarkozy said.

Kouchner insists his comments were taken out of context, and offered Thursday to visit Iran for talks on the nuclear standoff.

France has taken an increasingly strong line in the dispute over Iran's uranium enrichment programme, which the United States and its allies fear is an effort to build an atomic bomb.

"How do we convince (Iran) to renounce this project? Just as the international community convinced North Korea and Libya to renounce theirs. Through discussion, through dialogue, through sanctions," Sarkozy said.

"If sanctions are not enough, I want stronger sanctions," Sarkozy said, while repeating that Iran had a right to civilian nuclear technology.

US President George W. Bush said Thursday that he hoped Iran would bow to mounting global pressure, but warned he was "not going to tolerate" a nuclear-armed Tehran.

After weeks of escalating US rhetoric on Iran, Bush insisted that "the objective, of course, is to solve this peacefully."

"I am hopeful that we can convince the Iranian regime to give up any ambitions it has in developing a weapons program, and do so peacefully. That ought to be the objective of any diplomacy," he said.

"It's imperative that we continue to work in a multilateral fashion to send that message. And one place to do so is at the United Nations," Bush said, one day before Kouchner was due at the White House.

The Security Council has adopted three resolutions against Iran. Two include sanctions because of Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which it says is purely for civilian energy purposes.

Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon said earlier that France wants its European partners to take their own economic steps to punish Tehran for its nuclear programme, in parallel to the drive to secure new UN sanctions.

Martinon said the measures envisaged "could even be taken without there being a common text between the Europeans."

They would be "recommendations" to European companies asking them "at the very least not to bid for new markets in Iran, and for financial institutions to scale back their operations, to lower their investments," he said.

"We would like to obtain that from all EU countries, and we are not alone in wanting to do so," Martinon said.

Friday's discussions in Washington come just days before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected in New York on a visit that has sparked deep controversy in the United States.

The Iranian leader, who Washington considers an ally to Islamic militants and Iraqi insurgents, is due to address the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

He wanted to tour Ground Zero -- the site of the September 11 attacks of 2001 -- during his visit, but was denied permission on Wednesday.

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