- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

PARIS — On the eve of his first trip to Washington, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has sparked an international furor with a warning that the West should prepare for war as a last resort to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

Iranian officials reacted angrily yesterday to Mr. Kouchner’s remarks, but the minister’s call Sunday evening for unilateral European Union sanctions on Tehran if the United Nations fails to act has already drawn support from some EU members.

“We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war,” Mr. Kouchner said.

Some analysts suggested the statements by Mr. Kouchner, a left-wing foreign minister in the new center-right government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, may play well in Washington, which has led the international pressure campaign against Iran’s suspect nuclear programs.

The Bush administration has faced resistance to its plans for another round of U.N. sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear programs.

“Using crisis-making words is against France’s high historical and cultural position and is against France’s civilization,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told the country’s official IRNA news agency yesterday. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

At the annual gathering of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Austria, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, rejected the idea of a military option to curb Iran’s nuclear programs, while Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik dismissed Mr. Kouchner’s remarks as “incomprehensible.”

This is not the first time Mr. Kouchner, the charismatic co-founder of Doctors Without Borders and a former Socialist minister, has stirred controversy. Last month, he apologized for saying in a magazine interview that embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should resign, claiming that his comments had been misinterpreted.

“Clearly, he should have been better prepared and discussed his ideas [on Iran] with his European Union colleagues first,” said French analyst Philippe Moreau de Farges.

Even French Prime Minister Francois Fillon yesterday appeared to back off from Mr. Kouchner’s tough tone.

“Everything must be done to avoid war,” Mr. Fillon told reporters on a visit to the town of Angouleme in western France. “France’s role is to lead towards a peaceful solution of a situation that would be extremely dangerous for the rest of the world.”

Still, Mr. Kouchner’s remarks echo hard-line comments made by Mr. Sarkozy himself. During an August foreign-policy speech, the president warned Tehran could be attacked militarily if it did not heed international demands over its nuclear program.

“It might be a certain strategy of having Kouchner put a very radical position out there, which allows Sarkozy not to go so far himself,” said Clara Marina O’Donnell, a foreign policy and defense analyst at the London-based Center for European Reform, in London.

“But the message is now out there in the open,” she added.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen yesterday backed Mr. Kouchner’s suggestion of possible EU sanctions against Iran.

“The Netherlands would support European Union sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program if the U.N. Security Council fails to agree on new measures,” Mr. Verhagen said after talks with Mr. Kouchner.

But, he added, “the first effort should be to convince the Security Council to apply more sanctions.”

Mr. Kouchner’s hard line is likely to please the Bush administration. The foreign minister arrives in Washington for talks with senior officials starting tomorrow.

“This is another sign we’re seeing from France of having views quite similar to the U.S. views,” Mrs. O’Donnell said. “And this could be very useful for cooperation between Europe and the U.S. as a whole.”

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