French President Jacques Chirac called Monday for more negotiations with Iran, and said he opposed threatening Tehran with sanctions at the moment. Mr. Chirac's remarks underline a growing divide between Europe and Washington over ways to coax Iran to dismantle its nuclear program.
In an interview on France's Europe 1 radio, just before flying to New York Monday, President Chirac suggested the world community should use talk rather than threats in dealing with Iran.
Mr. Chirac said he still believed dialogue could still break the impasse over Iran's nuclear program, or at least, that dialogue should be taken to its limit. He also called on the six nations involved in negotiations with Tehran, which include the U.S., China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain, to refrain from taking the matter to the United Nations Security Council.
Mr. Chirac remarks suggest France supports continuing talks with Tehran even though the Iranian government has refused to suspend its nuclear activities - the precondition set by the six nations to continuing such negotiations. Iran insists its program is purely for peaceful purposes, but a number of countries fear it is trying to build a nuclear bomb.
Asked Tuesday whether he favored sanctions against Tehran, the French president replied: I am never favorable to sanctions.
The Bush administration wants the Security Council to take up the question of sanctions, and Washington has been trying to drum up European support for this approach. But Mr. Chirac's remarks underscore growing misgivings by some European leaders about pursuing sanctions instead of negotiations. Like France, two other Security Council members, China and Russia, are also balking over sanctions, which will make it difficult to push such a measure through.
Mr. Chirac is expected to meet with President George W. Bush on Tuesday during the United Nations General Assembly, in New York. Foreign secretaries from all six countries involved in the negotiations are scheduled to hold a dinner meeting on Iran Tuesday night. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also expected at the U.N. Tuesday, but neither the American nor the French leader has plans to meet with him.