Iran nuclear talks must not last years - Kouchner

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PARIS, Sep 20 (Reuters) French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said he supports talks between Iran and the UN's nuclear watchdog about Tehran's atomic programme, but the dialogue should not drag on for years.

Kouchner repeated in an interview with today's Le Figaro daily that his recent remark that France needed to prepare for the prospect of war with Iran had been misunderstood, and said Paris could act as an intermediary between the West and Iran.

Western powers led by the United States and France have criticised a deal by U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei requiring Iran to answer questions about past secret nuclear research but without touching its accelerating campaign to enrich atomic fuel.

Nevertheless, Kouchner told Le Figaro he was ready to give ElBaradei the time he needed to visit Iran.

''We must absolutely give an accord between the West and Iran an extra chance on the basis of a suspension of its (Iran's) uranium enrichment programme,'' he said.

''But these discussions cannot go on for years we have to find a solution,'' he said, adding that some observers believed the latest deal with the IAEA was a way for ''Iran to gain time''.

Tehran denies it is secretly seeking nuclear weapons and says it only wants to generate electricity.

But it has ignored the UN Security Council's repeated demands that it suspend uranium enrichment and other sensitive nuclear work that could potentially be used to make weapons.

France has been calling for tougher U.N. sanctions against Iran.

Kouchner has said they aimed at avoiding war and if the UN Security Council could not agree to punish Iran further, France would work on separate EU sanctions.

France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Russia and China are due to meet tomorrow to discuss a possible third round of UN sanctions against Tehran for failing to suspend sensitive nuclear work.

Kouchner has been criticised for his war comment in a radio interview on Sunday which prompted strong protests from Iran and an appeal for calm by ElBaradei. Kouchner told Le Figaro he was prepared to visit Tehran if invited to do so.

REUTERS SZ AS1215

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