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Sarkozy Cautions Against Attack on Iran

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By ANGELA DOLAND
The Associated Press
Monday, August 27, 2007; 3:18 PM

PARIS -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Monday that it would be "catastrophic" to resort to military force in confronting Iran over its suspect nuclear program.

"For me, Iran having a nuclear weapon is unacceptable," Sarkozy said in his first major address on foreign policy, but he stressed that he opposed an attack on the Islamic regime and urged that the West rely on diplomacy.

He said Iran can choose between dialogue with the international community or more U.N. sanctions. "This tactic is the only one that allows us to escape from a catastrophic alternative: an Iranian bomb, or the bombing of Iran," he said.

Sarkozy also said Iran is entitled to use nuclear power for civilian needs, such as generating electricity.

If countries like Iran run out of fossil fuels, and "if they don't have the right to the energy of the future, then we will create conditions of misery and underdevelopment, and therefore an explosion of terrorism," Sarkozy said.

In other areas, the new president signaled a shift in tone from his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, casting himself as a "friend of Israel" and taking a tougher line on Russia and China.

But despite his admiration for the United States, Sarkozy said Chirac was right to oppose the war in Iraq, which he called a mistake.

Sarkozy took over from fellow conservative Chirac in May pledging to boost France's international stature. The energetic new leader quickly scored a few high-profile diplomatic coups, such as helping secure freedom for six Bulgarian medical workers jailed in Libya for nine years on charges of deliberately infecting children with AIDS.

Yet the sdiplomatic agenda he outlined Monday was relatively modest. He proposed, for example, a committee of great minds to reflect on the future of the European Union _ an unassuming proposal for the EU, which Sarkozy nonetheless called France's "absolute priority."

He also eased his opposition to Turkey's bid for membership in the EU, which he previously vowed to block. On Monday, Sarkozy said he would not oppose new talks with the Muslim state, while adding the discussions should examine the idea of a weaker alliance than membership.

"A few months after taking the presidency, Nicolas Sarkozy is realizing that he has limited room for maneuvering," said Philippe Moreau-Defarges of the French Institute for International Relations.

Sarkozy's tough language about China and Russia set him apart from Chirac, who was often criticized for too-cozy ties with authoritarian leaders.


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