Iran president brushes aside French remarks on war

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Tehran, Sep 18 (Reuters) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today comments by French government officials suggesting possible war over Iran's nuclear programme were intended for the media and should not be taken seriously.

France, which strongly opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, has taken a lead since Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president in calling for more sanctions on Iran and warning of possible military action.

Western nations, including France, fear Iran is seeking to build atomic bombs despite Tehran's denials. The United States insists it wants diplomacy to end the row but has not ruled out military action should such a route fail.

''The remarks made to the press are different from genuine statements, so we do not consider these threats to be serious,'' Ahmadinejad told reporters during a visit to parliament when asked about the comments by French officials.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said yesterday everything must be done to avoid the prospect of war with Iran, while a day earlier Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Paris should prepare for that possibility though he did not think any war was imminent.

Iran's Foreign Ministry has said France is stoking a crisis by making remarks not in line with European Union policy.

Kouchner said France had asked French firms not to bid for work in Iran. Several big French firms have or are looking at big investments in the Islamic Republic, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, including Total and Renault .

A senior parliamentarian said such an ''illogical'' position voiced by France could threaten French business interests in Iran. He demanded an apology.

A French diplomat said comments by his government were not intended to be bellicose but reflected real worries in Paris that the standoff with Iran could be heading towards conflict, a situation France was determined to try to avert.

REUTERS ARB HT1517

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