- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2007

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner yesterday warned that a nuclear-armed Iran will be emboldened to support terrorist movements and pose an even greater threat to Western interests in the Middle East.

“To those who say we should handle Iran with kid gloves, I say this: Look at its adventurism today and imagine what it would be like if Tehran thought itself protected by a nuclear umbrella.”

Mr. Kouchner, on his first trip to Washington since taking office in May, appealed to both Paris and Washington to move beyond “one of the most strained periods in the history of our relationship.” But he added the allies still must be prepared to agree to disagree at times.

“I know hopes are high,” he said, “but I would like to say that the future inevitably holds further disagreements between us.”

In an address at a Washington hotel, interrupted several times by hecklers, Mr. Kouchner softened but did not back down from a recent comment that the international community must be prepared for any and all steps — including war — to stop Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons.

He called for intense negotiations with Tehran and said the United Nations and the European Union should consider tough new sanctions if Iran refuses to suspend key components of its nuclear program.

He said new French President Nicolas Sarkozy already has pressed French companies, especially in the energy sector, to curb their dealings with Iran.

“We will do everything in our power to avoid the dreadful alternative laid out by President Sarkozy — the Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran.”

A protester interrupted Mr. Kouchner’s speech to condemn a possible war with Iran. As she was taken out by security guards, Mr. Kouchner told her: “But I agree with you, stupid.”

French foreign policy has taken a striking turn under Mr. Sarkozy since his election in May, warming to the United States, cooling toward Russia, and breaking with France’s traditional close ties to Middle East Arab states.

Mr. Kouchner, a leftist and co-founder of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Doctors Without Borders, was an unconventional choice for the center-right president. He was expelled from the French Socialist Party when he agreed to join the Sarkozy Cabinet.

While still critical of the 2003 Iraq war, Mr. Sarkozy has reached out to the Bush administration with offers of support to the new government in Baghdad. Mr. Kouchner, a fierce critic of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, made a surprise visit to Baghdad last month.

“Everyone knows that the Americans cannot bring this country out of difficulty all alone,” Mr. Kouchner said at the time.

Mr. Kouchner wraps up a three-day visit to Washington with meetings scheduled with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley today.

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