Bush and Sarkozy demand new Iran nuclear sanctions

. ( AFP ) - The French and US presidents stepped up demands for tough action over the Iran nuclear standoff ahead of a meeting of the major powers in Washington on Friday to discuss the dispute.

France's Nicolas Sarkozy directly accused Iran of seeking a nuclear bomb and threw his weight behind calls for "stronger" UN sanctions which are to be discussed at the Washington talks.

US leader George W. Bush said he hoped the Islamic Republic would bow to mounting global pressure and warned he was "not going to tolerate" a nuclear-armed Iran.

Iran denies its uranium enrichment and other activities, which are the subject of UN sanctions, hide an attempt to develop a bomb.

Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States are to meet in Washington on Friday to discuss a third package of tighter UN sanctions against Iran if it does not suspend its uranium enrichment.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are also to hold talks in Washington on the topic and diplomatic tensions are set to mount again next week when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits New York for the UN General Assembly.

Sarkozy charged in a prime time television interview late Thursday that " Iran is trying to obtain an atomic bomb."

"That is unacceptable and I tell the French people it is unacceptable."

Sarkozy distanced himself from comments by Kouchner who warned that a war with Iran was possible and put the emphasis on a diplomatic offensive.

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

The Iranian nuclear question "is an extremely difficult affair, but France does not want a war," Sarkozy said, referring to Kouchner's earlier comments.

After weeks of escalating US rhetoric on Iran, Bush insisted at a White House press conference Thursday 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 programme, 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.

Bush turned his attack against Ahmadinejad who has been refused permission to visit Ground Zero, site of the September 11, 2001, attacks, while he is in New York.

"I can understand why they would not want somebody that's running a country who's a state sponsor of terror down there at the site," said Bush.

The UN 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.

France also wants the European Union to take its own sanctions against Iran if the UN Security Council does not pass new measures, which are opposed by Russia and China.

French presidential spokesman David Martinon said the measures could 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."

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