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French president backs strengthening sanctions vs. Iran: NY Times

History

Breaking with traditional French policy, which has long resisted sanctions as a diplomatic weapon, President Nicolas Sarkozy laid out a far-reaching strategy to punish Iran economically - through UN and European sanctions and by exerting pressure on French and other nations’ corporations and banks not to do business there, the New York Times reported in its Monday editions.

Strengthened sanctions, he predicted, “eventually will produce results” in persuading Iran to curb nuclear activities prohibited under UN Security Council resolutions, according to the Times’ report of the French leader’s interview with the newspaper and the International Herald Tribune. The interview was his first with English-language news organizations since becoming president in May, the Times said. Specifically, Sarkozy said that France was asking its own companies “to refrain from going to Iran,” the Times reported. France already has urged its oil giant Total SA and its gas firm Gaz de France not to bid for new projects in Iran and urged French banks to stop doing business there, the report said.

France’s position, he said, is clear: “No nuclear weapon for Iran, an arsenal of sanctions to convince them, negotiations, discussions, firmness. And I don’t want to hear anything else that would not contribute usefully to the discussion today,” according to the Times report. “For my part, I don’t use the word war,” Sarkozy said, signaling that he would tolerate no dissent on the issue, the Times reported. His words were in sharp contrast to those of his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who said in a radio and television interview last Sunday that France was preparing for the “worst” situation with Iran - war, the Times reported. Kouchner has since declared that that was misunderstood, the report said. Sarkozy also contradicted his foreign minister a second time, saying that Kouchner’s public offer to visit Iran was a nonstarter, the Times reported. “I don’t think that the conditions for a trip to Tehran are present right now,” he said, according to the Times. “We can talk things over in the halls of the United Nations.”

Asked whether France agreed with the Bush administration that “all options are on the table,” he replied, “The expression ‘all the options are on the table’ is not mine. And I do not make it mine,” the Times quoted Sarkozy as saying. He added,  “I am not determining my position on the Iranian question based on the position of the United States alone,” the Times reported. He equally refused to choose between a nuclear-armed Iran and the use of force, saying, “It is exactly what the Iranian leaders want. I am not obliged to fall into this trap,” according to the Times report. Sarkozy has been dropping hints that France wants to return to the military command of the North Atlatnic Treaty Organization more than four decades after de Gaulle abruptly abandoned that wing of the alliance, the Times reported.

In the interview, Sarkozy announced for the first time two conditions that would have to be met beforehand: US acceptance of an independent European defense capability and a leading French role in NATO’s command structures “at the highest level,” the report said. Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, sought to rejoin NATO’s military command, but in 1997 the Clinton administration rejected the conditions set by Paris, the report said. Sarkozy also seemed to put the onus not on France but on the US, the report said. “I would make progress on European defense a condition for moving into the integrated command, and I am asking our American friends to understand that,” he said, according to the Times. He also made clear that in order to even “consider” returning to the fold, NATO’s “governing bodies” would have to make considerable space for France, the report said. “France can only resume its place if room is made,” he said, according to the Times. “It’s hard to take a place that isn’t reserved for you.”

Regarding his stay in New York this week for the meeting of the UN General Assembly, aides to Sarkozy said he didn’t plan to meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who will also address the General Assembly, the Times reported. Sarkozy expressed support for the current US-led push in the Security Council for a third sanctions resolution against Iran, but acknowledged that it might not be possible to achieve, the report said. Other punitive measures must be pursued, with other countries in Europe, he said, calling such an approach “an international, a multilateral, decision,” and as such one that suits him, the Times reported. Turning to the fate of Iraq, Sarkozy made plain that the country must remain intact, and said it would stand a better chance of developing without a foreign military presence, the report said. Yet he stated that France itself, which opposed the US-led invasion in 2003 and has declined to send police or military trainers there, would offer no initiatives beyond the recent trip to Baghdad by Kouchner, the report said. “France has no mission to go into Iraq,” Sarkozy said, the Times reported. (marketwatch.com)

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