France gets closer to U.S. stance on Iran, drawing Iranian ire |

France gets closer to U.S. stance on Iran, drawing Iranian ire

PARIS – France accused Iran on Thursday of secretly making nuclear weapons, ditching Europe’s traditional diplomatic caution for bluntness in remarks that echoed the tough U.S. stance on Iran’s disputed nuclear program.The accusation from French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy – which Iran quickly denied – appeared to reflect mounting exasperation and a tougher stance by one of three key European negotiators.”No civilian nuclear program can explain the Iranian nuclear program. It is a clandestine military nuclear program,” Douste-Blazy said on France-2 television.By contrast, though, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that she was “truly optimistic, I would even say very optimistic, that we can do everything to solve this conflict with diplomatic means.”Britain’s foreign secretary, Jack Straw, also erred on the side of caution, saying “there are strong suspicions internationally that Iran may be seeking … to develop a nuclear weapons capability” but “we do not have absolute proof.”The board of the International Atomic Energy Agency voted last month to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, but Russia, a close ally of Iran, insisted that the council not take up the file until March. Last week, Iran resumed small-scale uranium enrichment, insisting the program is for nuclear energy, not arms, but still heightening tensions.In Washington, the House voted 404-4 on Thursday to approve a non-binding resolution expressing support for efforts to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council. The Senate already approved the symbolic legislation, which imposes no legal consequences on Iran.The next big test comes at Iranian-Russian talks starting Monday in Moscow on a Russian proposal to move Iran’s enrichment program to Russia and abandon enrichment on Iranian soil for a significant period of time.The proposal is meant to allay fears that Tehran might misuse the technology to make nuclear arms. Tensions over Iran are likely to diminish if Tehran agrees to the Russian proposal – and to balloon if it does not.A deputy Russian foreign minister, Alexander Alekseyev, said Thursday that cooperation with China could help push Iran toward accepting Moscow’s offer, according to the Interfax news agency. He added, however, that the Iranian nuclear issue recently had become “sharper,” and “it is too early to assess the effectiveness of our joint steps to resolve it.”China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya, asked at U.N. headquarters in New York about the Russian proposal, said: “I think it’s a way out. I do hope that all sides can agree to that.””I hope that the meeting next Monday will lead to good results,” Wang said.Merkel, also optimistic, said in an interview to be broadcast by ZDF television that the “diplomatic path has every chance of success.”The French Foreign Ministry insisted that Douste-Blazy’s remarks were in line with the European position on Iran, but fellow negotiators Germany and Britain have not spoken so frankly.”The international community has sent a very firm message in telling the Iranians to return to reason and suspend all nuclear activity and the enrichment and conversion of uranium, but they aren’t listening to us,” Douste-Blazy said.”Now it’s up to the Security Council to say what it will do, what means it will use to stop, to manage, to halt this terrible crisis of nuclear proliferation caused by Iran,” Douste-Blazy said.Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, lashed back.”I recommend that Mr. Douste-Blazy speak in diplomatic terms and avoid increasing tension,” he said, according to Iranian state-run television. “The motivation of the French foreign minister behind his new comments is ambiguous to us. But it is in the interests of the region that the West adopts a logical stance toward Iran’s nuclear activities.”Georges Le Guelte, a nuclear expert at France’s Institute for International and Strategic Research, called Douste-Blazy’s statement “remarkable.””It was not very diplomatic,” Le Guelte said.He called it a powerful message to French companies operating in Iran that have pressured the government to remain cautious.”All of the doors that were open in terms of negotiations … are gradually being closed by the Iranians,” added Richard Whitman of the Chatham House think tank in London. He said Douste-Blazy’s comments reflect “a sense of exasperation with the Iranian government.”The United States, Europe and Russia have stayed together as they seek to pressure Iran.Russia’s top military chief, meanwhile, warned the United States against launching a military strike against Iran, saying “it is hard to predict how the Muslim world will respond.””This may stir the whole world, and it is crucial to prevent anything like that,” Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, the chief of Russia’s general staff, was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism