Sarkozy implies letting Iran go nuclear could lead to war

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear program will only be resolved with a combination of “firmness and dialogue,” and that appeasement may only lead to “war.”

Sarkozy, addressing the UN General Assembly for the first time since becoming president in May, said allowing Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons would be an “unacceptable risk to stability in the region and in the world.”

Iran was entitled to nuclear power for civilian purposes, he said, “but if we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, we would incur an unacceptable risk to stability in the region and in the world”.

“Weakness and renunciation do not lead to peace. They lead to war,” he declared.

“There will not be peace in the world if the international community falters in the face of the proliferation of nuclear arms,” Sarkozy said. The Iranian crisis “will only be resolved if firmness and dialogue go hand-in-hand.”

In related news, the US Congress moved quickly to signal its disapproval of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling for tighter sanctions against his government and designation of his military as a terrorist group.

The swift rebuke was a rare display of bipartisan cooperation in a Congress bitterly divided on the Iraq war. It reflected lawmakers’ long-held nervousness surrounding Tehran’s aggression in the region, particularly toward Israel – a sentiment fueled by the pro-Israeli lobby in Congress whose influence reaches across party lines.

“Iran faces a choice between a very big carrot and a very sharp stick,” said Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “It is my hope that they will take the carrot. But today, we are putting the stick in place.”

The House passed, by a 397-16 vote, a proposal by Lantos, a Democrat, aimed at blocking foreign investment in Iran, in particular its lucrative energy sector. The bill would specifically bar the president from waiving US sanctions.

But to become law, the House bill would have to be reconciled with any legislation the Senate may pass before going to President George W. Bush for signature.

Lantos’ bill was expected to draw criticism from US allies in Europe. During a visit to Washington last week, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told lawmakers that France opposes any US legislation that would target European countries operating in Iran. He argued that such sanctions could undermine cooperation on dealing with Iran.