US, France stress diplomatic push on Iran

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WASHINGTON, Sep 21 (Reuters) The United States and France today stressed their diplomatic efforts to end Iran's suspected nuclear arms program as major powers met to discuss possible new UN sanctions against Tehran.

Kouchner, who on Sunday raised the specter of war with Iran but has since backed away from the comment, emphasized European talks with Tehran as well as the possibility of fresh UN Security Council or European Union sanctions against Iran.

Western nations, which suspect Iran may be seeking to develop an atomic bomb under the cover of its civil nuclear program, have demanded that Tehran suspend its uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for a bomb.

Iran says its nuclear program is to generate power so that it can export more of its oil and gas and has so far rebuffed UN Security Council resolutions demanding that it halt uranium enrichment.

The political directors of the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany met in Washington today to talk about the outlines of a third Security Council sanctions resolution against Tehran.

''It is important to note that we have set out a diplomatic path that includes negotiation as the preferred means by which to resolve this issue,'' US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters at a joint news conference with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

''We will seek further resolutions in the UN Security Council should Iran not take up the negotiating track,'' Rice added, noting that the Security Council had used both asset freezes and visa bans to punish Iran in the past.

''There are any number of ways that we can expand those efforts,'' Rice said.

The Security Council on December. 23 imposed trade sanctions on Iran's sensitive nuclear and advance missile programs. On March 24, the 15-nation body froze the assets of 28 groups, companies and individuals and banned Tehran's arms exports.

New UN Security Council measures under consideration include additional financial sanctions and an inspection of cargo to and from Iran to search for banned nuclear-related materials, diplomats have said.

''We may hope that there will be a third resolution to reinforce the sanctions, which up until now have not been very effective,'' Kouchner told reporters.

While France and Britain strongly back the US push for harsher Security Council sanctions, China and Russia oppose this. Other European nations also have qualms about further sanctions.

REUTERS AK PM0105

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