International Herald Tribune – December 7, 2007
France pushed for continued negotiations to tighten international sanctions against Iran, saying Friday that its concerns about Tehran's nuclear program were not allayed by new U.S. intelligence.
France also reiterated its call for European companies to freeze new investment in Iran and for banks to reduce their exposure there.
France's continued firm stance comes despite U.S. intelligence made public this week concluding that Iran had a covert nuclear weapons program but halted it in 2003.
That surprising U-turn by U.S. spy agencies has raised questions about whether the drive toward a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran will fall apart.
The U.S. agencies, in their National Intelligence Estimate, also cautioned, however, that Tehran continues to enrich uranium — the fuel both for weapons and nuclear power stations — and could build a bomb between 2010 and 2015 if it decides to.
"We cannot at all conclude that the threat has decreased," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy's spokesman, David Martinon.
"To have fruitful negotiations, we need to increase pressure on Iran and the only way to do that is sanctions," he added. "For us, the sooner the better."
The United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China are in discussions about a third U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran for its refusal to comply with demands it halt uranium enrichment. Iran insists the activity is aimed at producing energy.
France also has led a separate push for new sanctions by the 27-member European Union.
Iran's ambassador to Paris, Ali Ahani said it is "regrettable" that France gives the impression it is "in alignment with the Americans."
"We hope that France and the French government will be realists and not play the role of avant-garde that gives the impression France is not ready to resolve the issue by diplomatic means," Ahani told a news conference.
Martinon, the presidential spokesman, said "nearly all companies in the European Union" have heeded appeals not to make new investments in Iran and for banks to reduce their exposure there.
Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said Thursday night that Iran was still a "danger."
"I don't see why we should renounce sanctions," Sarkozy said. "Notwithstanding the latest elements, everyone is fully conscious of the fact that there is a will of the Iranian leaders to obtain nuclear weapons."
However, the Iranian ambassador cautioned, "Of course, if we face another resolution and sanctions, it can have negative effects on the advancement" of Tehran's work with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, which Ahani said was the best forum for resolving differences.
Last updated 09/12/2007