U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner Friday agreed on the need for more pressure, through sanctions and business restrictions, to get Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions. They also jointly condemned this week's murder of Lebanese politician Antoine Ghanem. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The French foreign minister, on the eve of his first Washington visit, grabbed headlines with a warning that the West should be prepared for war as a last resort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
But the stress of both Kouchner and Secretary Rice, at a press appearance following their meeting, was on political means to pressure Iran, including another, more stringent, U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution, and new business curbs by Europe on the Iranian economy.
Kouchner, heard through an interpreter, spoke of a three-pronged diplomatic approach through the United Nations, by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamad ElBaradei, and in the European Union, where he said EU member countries can exert more economic leverage against Tehran.
"This path is also being pursued, followed, namely with specific sanctions, which would go toward the banking system, the industrial system of Iran, and we would be ready to implement them. And France, for its side, has already recommended that some of its large companies refrain from taking part in bids and calls for tenders," he said.
Rice, for her part, said diplomacy is the preferred means for resolving the Iranian nuclear issue, and that there is essentially no difference between the way the United States and France view the matter.
She stressed that a 2006 U.S. initiative to end a 27-year diplomatic freeze and hold an open-ended political dialogue with Iran remains on the table. She said Iran's refusal to have the dialogue or accept other diplomatic incentives suggests the worst about its nuclear intentions.
"We can talk about whatever the Iranians wish to talk about. So, I think the question isn't why won't the United States talk to Iran, it's why won't Tehran talk to the United States. And if Iran is refusing to do so, it must mean that they are insisting on pursuing enrichment and reprocessing because they want to get the technology that can lead to a nuclear weapon," she said.
As Rice and Kouchner held their talks, ranking diplomats from the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries plus Germany were meeting elsewhere in the State Department to discuss strategy for a new sanctions resolution against Iran.
That discussion will continue next Friday, with a ministerial-level session of the P-Five Plus One, hosted by Rice on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The Rice-Kouchner talks also covered Kosovo, Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and Lebanon. At the French minister's initiative, they issued a joint statement strongly condemning this week's car-bomb murder of Lebanese Christian lawmaker Antoine Ghanem, the latest in a series of killings of pro-Western politicians in Lebanon.
"What is at stake today is the will of the murderers to disrupt the constitutional life of Lebanon, to deprive the Lebanese people and communities of their political rights in the framework of a United sovereign and democratic Lebanon. The U.S. and France, with their partners in the United Nations Security Council are vigilant in protecting this process and the intra-Lebanese political dialogue," said Kouchner, reading from the statement.
The statement said it is crucial that presidential elections in Lebanon this autumn go forward according to the country's constitution and norms, and said a successful process will be a defeat for the murderers and a victory for all Lebanese.
The joint statement did not lay blame for the killing, though a senior State Department official later reiterated U.S. calls for Syria to respect Lebanon's sovereignty.