Iran says French call for EU sanctions illegal

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TEHRAN, Oct 7 (Reuters) Iran's foreign minister said France's call for EU sanctions against Tehran outside of the UN framework was illegal and the Islamic Republic would not back away from its nuclear ambitions.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner sent a letter to his European Union counterparts this week, appealing to the 27-nation bloc to take a lead in widening financial sanctions on Iran, which the West accuses of seeking to build atomic bombs.

Kouchner sparked controversy last month by saying the world should prepare for the possibility of war with Iran over its atomic programme, prompting Tehran to summon France's charge d'affaires in protest. Iran says its plans are peaceful.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, speaking on a talk show on state television, described Kouchner's letter as ''baseless'' and said he would respond with his own letter.

''I will soon, in the next few days, send him a letter and will send a copy of it to his European counterparts, the foreign ministers of the European Union, and will remind (them) how illogical and illegal comments by Mr Kouchner were,'' he said yesterday.

''They should receive one clear message and that is that on this issue Iran's right (to obtain nuclear technology) cannot be traded.

This is not something that anyone in the Islamic Republic will retreat from.'' Kouchner's letter called on the EU to start exploring sanctions now, suggesting the bloc initially add Iranian banking firms and officials to its list of asset freezes and visa bans.

Six major powers last week delayed a U.N. vote on tougher sanctions on Iran until late November at the earliest. Russia, which holds a veto in the UN Security Council, backed the case for more negotiations with Tehran.

The UN Security Council has slapped two rounds of sanctions on Iran for failing to halt uranium enrichment, the part of Iran's programme that most worries the West because the process can make fuel for power plants or material for bombs.

The United States, which has been at the forefront of efforts to isolate Iran, has already imposed sanctions of its own in addition to the measures taken by the United Nations. Washington has urged European states to follow suit.

France can count on support from Britain for EU sanctions and Germany has indicated it would cautiously back such a step but Prime Minister Romano Prodi signalled Rome would resist an attempt to formulate EU sanctions outside the United Nations.

REUTERS TB AS0427

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