- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

France and the U.S. are in strong agreement on the need for more sanctions against Iran if it does not halt its drive to obtain nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.

Miss Rice and visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said they would keep pushing the U.N. Security Council to approve a third round of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programs, and Mr. Kouchner said this week he also favored new European Union action against Tehran.

“I think that there is essentially no difference [between the U.S. and France] in the way that we see the situation in Iran and what the international community must do,” Miss Rice said after a working lunch at the State Department with her French counterpart.

Top officials from the five permanent U.N. Security Council powers — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China — and Germany are meeting here to discuss the Iranian crisis ahead of next week’s annual gathering of the U.N. General Assembly leaders in New York.

France’s tougher line against Iran is just one sign of the pronounced shift in French foreign policy and improved ties with Washington since the election of President Nicolas Sarkozy this spring. President Bush and former French leader Jacques Chirac had little personal rapport and broke publicly over the Iraq war and other major issues.

Mr. Kouchner at one point had to remind reporters that Paris and Washington will still have disagreements despite the recent thaw.

“Having good relations doesn’t mean that we are in complete agreement every day everywhere, but we have excellent relations,” he said.

Miss Rice did not specify what new action the two allies are seeking on Iran, which insists its nuclear programs are intended for peaceful civilian uses.

“We have explored and have used various freezes on assets of individuals, and we have used visa bans” in the past, she noted. “I think there are any number of ways that we can expand those efforts.”

Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Kouchner have pressured French firms, particularly in the energy sector, to curb business dealings with Iran, and Mr. Kouchner has taken the lead in advocating EU sanctions as well. U.S. officials have complained that too many European firms continue to do business with the Islamic republic.

Bloomberg News reported yesterday that Germany may soon follow France’s lead in backing tougher U.N. action if Iran fails to cooperate.

Ruprecht Polenz, head of the German parliament’s foreign-affairs committee and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told the news service in an interview “it now seems legitimate to consider raising the stakes” for Iran.

Germany has recently tightened controls on some sensitive military and high-tech exports to Iran.

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