France does not want war with Iran: Sarkozy
( AFP ) - 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. "That is unacceptable and I tell the French people it is unacceptable."
The Iranian nuclear question "is an extremely difficult affair, but France does not want a war," he said in a prime-time interview on TF1 and France 2 television.
Sarkozy distanced himself from remarks by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who 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, though he went on to salute Kouchner's work towards resolving conflicts in Lebanon and the Sudanese province of Darfur.
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.
Iran denies it is seeking an atomic weapon and insists its nuclear programme is for power generation.
"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.
The UN Security Council's permanent members plus Germany will meet in Washington Friday to discuss a third package of tighter sanctions to punish Iran for its nuclear programme, but Russia has strong objections.
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.