Reuters: Germany and France said on Thursday Iran’s nuclear programme was still a threat and the search for more U.N. sanctions should go on despite a U.S. intelligence report that Tehran was no longer trying to build an atomic bomb. By Francois Murphy
PARIS (Reuters) – Germany and France said on Thursday Iran’s nuclear programme was still a threat and the search for more U.N. sanctions should go on despite a U.S. intelligence report that Tehran was no longer trying to build an atomic bomb.
Speaking at a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the existing dual track policy of preparing sanctions against Tehran while leaving the door open to negotiations should go on.
“I think that we are in a process and that Iran still poses a threat,” Merkel said, adding that talks between mediator Javier Solana and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator should continue.
Sarkozy said he fully agreed with Merkel, adding: “What has made Iran move until now is sanctions and firmness.”
The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate published Monday said Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program four years ago. It said Iran was continuing to develop the technical means that could be applied to producing weapons.
The report appears likely to increase resistance from Russia and China to U.S. demands, backed by France and Britain, for a third round of United Nations sanctions against Iran over its atomic programme.
Russia has said the report is a factor that will be taken into account in negotiations over sanctions, and the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, said the NIE report “somewhat vindicated” Iran.
Because of international concerns that Iran is secretly pursuing nuclear weapons, the U.N. Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions against Tehran and demanded that it halt uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for power plants or, potentially, atom bombs.
Iran says it only wants to generate electricity and has a national right to uranium enrichment.
Washington has said it will keep pushing for a third round of sanctions, and its closest allies in that endeavour, France and Britain, have said their position is unchanged.
SARKOZY DEFENDS PUTIN CALL
Merkel refrained, however, from commenting when Sarkozy was asked about a phone call he made to Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his party’s victory in Russia’s parliamentary election last weekend.
The French leader’s gesture put him at odds with Germany which flatly called the election “neither free, fair nor democratic” by Western standards, and most other EU governments voiced concern at reports of voting irregularities.
“Frankly, there really wasn’t anything to get upset about,” Sarkozy told reporters.
“All of those who follow elections in Russia know perfectly well how popular Mr Putin is in Russia, and no one serious can dispute the idea that he won the elections,” he said, adding that he raised the “problems” there had been with the election.
Sarkozy said it would be curious for France to ask Russia to pressure Iran over its nuclear programme while suggesting that it was wrong for him to speak to Putin.
Merkel also toned down her recent criticism of Sarkozy’s project of setting up a Mediterranean Union, denying that she said it posed a threat to the European Union.
“What I said was that if alongside the European Union part of the countries, those that lie on the Mediterranean Sea, build a second union which those that do not lie on the Mediterranean can have nothing to do with, then that would be a difficult test of the European Union,” she said, denying a split with Paris.
“We have seen today that we are of the opinion that we can do this together,” she said.
Sarkozy added that they would work together to “associate” any EU states that wanted to with the Mediterranean Union.