States can act on Iran before EU sanctions -France

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PARIS, Oct 5 (Reuters) France said today European Union member states can take their own steps to slow trade with Iran before the bloc agrees extra sanctions to punish Tehran for pursuing nuclear work.

France has toughened its rhetoric against Tehran since President Nicolas Sarkozy took office in May, with both Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warning of the prospect of military action against Iran.

France is pushing for stronger EU sanctions against Tehran at the same time as negotiating a third round of UN sanctions with other major powers, who have agreed to hold off passing such measures at the UN Security Council until November.

Other EU member states, such as Italy, have signalled their reluctance to press ahead with tougher EU sanctions.

''Discussions (in the EU) are not that easy to try to reach a toughening of the sanctions regime,'' Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon told a news conference today, adding that talks at the United Nations and within the EU should continue.

''At the same time that does not preclude the fact that each European country can move forward unilaterally on a national basis by giving a certain number of recommendations to its companies,'' he added.

Kouchner has said Paris has asked large French companies such as oil major Total not to bid for tenders in Iran as Paris jacks up pressure on Tehran to comply with UN demands that it suspend activities linked to uranium enrichment, a process that can make fuel for atomic power plants or bombs.

Iran denies charges it is seeking nuclear weapons, saying its atomic technology is geared solely to producing electricity, but it has said it will not suspend enrichment as the UN Security Council has demanded.

Kouchner sent a letter to his EU counterparts this week, appealing to the 27-nation bloc to start exploring sanctions now, suggesting that the bloc initially add Iranian banking firms and officials to its list of asset freezes and visa bans.

REUTERS JK ND1705

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