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French, German Leaders Express Concern about Iran's Nuclear Program


French and German leaders reiterated the need for the West to work together to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. The two leaders met Monday outside the French capital.

During a joint press conference with French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe and the United States already largely agreed on their stance opposing Iran's decision to resume its nuclear enrichment activities.

Mrs. Merkel said the problem of getting Iran to comply with Western demands must be taken step by step. The next step, she said, was next week's meeting in Vienna of the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. She said it was important to get as large a consensus as possible about what position to adopt toward Iran. She did not specifically mention if that meant referring Iran to the United Nations for possible sanctions.

Mrs. Merkel spoke following wide-ranging talks with Mr. Chirac at the Versailles Palace outside Paris that touched on Europe and the Middle East. But Iran remains a dominant issue, both for Europe and the United States.

On Monday, Iran's Foreign Minister declared Tehran would pursue its nuclear program despite the Security Council threat. Iran has also sharply criticized a speech by President Chirac last week that said France could retaliate with nuclear strikes against a nation sponsoring terrorism. Mr. Chirac did not mention a specific country in his remarks.

But the speech sparked controversy both in Iran and in Europe, with some German politicians criticizing it. On Monday, Mr. Chirac did not directly reply to a question about whether France would ever contemplate targeted nuclear strikes against Iran.

Rather, Mr. Chirac said the fact France had nuclear weapons was not a secret. And France's general policy of nuclear dissuasion - to protect vital French interests - remained in place. It was simply adapting to a changing threat. But he also said France would not use nuclear weapons as battlefield weapons. Mrs. Merkel said she largely agreed with Mr. Chirac's remarks, and that she was astonished at the debate they had sparked.

At a news conference after their talks, both leaders expressed agreement on most issues. Mr. Chirac, for example, said both countries believed the time had come for truth and justice in Lebanon, where questions linger over the assassination of the country's former prime minister. The Lebanese people, he said, could count on German and French support against forces of destabilization, and to consolidate democracy, liberty and independence.