French Official Backs Hard Line on Iran

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner met Friday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice amid U.S. expressions of satisfaction that his government is taking a harder line on Iran’s nuclear program.

Kouchner was meeting Friday with national security adviser Stephen Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In a speech Thursday, he added to a slew of tough comments he has made lately on Iran. He also stressed that he believes France and the United States have emerged from a period of severe strain in relations stemming from differences over Iraq.

He said that France would push for Europe to play a bigger role in international affairs but not at the expense of American power.

“A stronger Europe is absolutely not incompatible with the trans-Atlantic relationship,” Kouchner said.

On Iran, Kouchner expanded on the recommendation earlier Thursday by his boss, President Nicolas Sarkozy, for tightening international sanctions against Iran. The French government has also said it will seek European Union sanctions against Iran, a move that the United States says it welcomes.

“I think it is extremely helpful that the international community continues to take actions that we mean business when it comes to dealing with their nuclear program,” a State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said Friday of the French stance.

The French government’s tougher line has brought it closer to the Bush administration, which has made a renewed U.S. push to tighten sanctions.

On Sunday, Kouchner sparked an outcry at home and abroad by saying the world should be prepared for “the worst” over Iran’s nuclear program — or “war.”
He later backtracked, and in his speech Thursday, he said he had not been advocating military confrontation.

“We will do everything in our power to avoid the dreadful alternative laid out by President Sarkozy: the Iranian bomb or bombing of Iran,” Kouchner said.

Kouchner said that France sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to global security.

“To those who say that we should handle Iran with kid gloves, since it could destabilize the region, I say this: look at its adventurism today and imagine what it would be like if Tehran thought itself one day protected by a nuclear umbrella,” he said.

The tougher position is likely to be welcomed in Washington. Earlier Thursday, Kouchner discussed Iran and other issues with lawmakers and with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

At a news conference Thursday, President George W. Bush was asked about Kouchner’s earlier statement about confrontation with Iran and said: “I have consistently stated I am hopeful we can convince the Iranian regime to give up” any nuclear ambitions it has.

Kouchner also touched on talk by his government of boosting its role in NATO. France has been a member since the organization was founded in 1949. However, Gen. Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of NATO’s integrated military structure in 1966, refusing to put his troops under NATO command or to host NATO bases, a decision that damaged trans-Atlantic ties for years.

Kouchner said that France would rethink its relationship to NATO in the context of strengthening the European Union’s independent defense capabilities.

“It is only in the framework of strengthening of European defense that we will consider how our role in NATO might change,” he said.

In meetings with Rice and Hadley, Kouchner was likely to talk about peace talks in the Middle East and the future of Kosovo, a province of Serbia that aspires to independence.

Kouchner said that France welcomed a U.S.-sponsored conference on the Middle East planned for November and was prepared to help U.S. efforts.

He said it was essential that Europe and the United States maintain a united position on Kosovo in internationally brokered talks, which have been deadlocked because of Kosovo’s demand for independence and Serbia’s refusal to give it.

Kouchner, who previously served as the United Nations’ administrator in Kosovo, recently suggested that talks on the territory’s future could be extended by six months beyond a December deadline already agreed to by the United States and Kosovo. The United States probably would oppose that.

Kouchner’s talks with U.S. officials also are likely to touch on the violence in Iraq and Darfur and on global warming.

On that last theme, Kouchner could not help tweaking the Bush administration.

“A great nation like the United States has a duty not to impede efforts to combat global warming, one of the major challenges of this century,” he said.
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