Sarkozy talks tough on Iran before Putin meeting

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MOSCOW, Oct 9 (Reuters) France will not compromise on the need for tougher sanctions on Iran, President Nicolas Sarkozy said in an interview published today, hours before he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin near Moscow.

Sarkozy praised Putin as a man with whom he could do business, but his comments on Iran are likely to put him at odds with Moscow, which has said it does not believe further sanctions against Tehran will be helpful.

''Between resignation (to Iran's nuclear ambitions) and war -- and these two words are not in my lexicon -- there is a responsible stance: toughening sanctions with the aim of bringing Iran to its senses,'' Sarkozy said.

''No one should put in doubt France's seriousness and resoluteness on this issue,'' he said in the interview in Russia's state-run Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily.

''We are talking about protecting our collective security from the danger of nuclear proliferation. I will not give ground on an issue which is of such great importance.'' Western powers believe Iran is using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover for a bomb-making project. Tehran denies this.

Russia has used its veto in the United Nations Security Council to water down previous sanctions.

Sarkozy, on his first trip to Russia as president, is to fly in to Moscow today. He is to have a working dinner with Putin at his residence near Moscow.

The French leader, in the interview, criticised Russia for disruptions in the past to oil and gas supplies to European customers.

''I will not hide from you that when Russia, without warning, halts energy deliveries to a part of Europe, that damages trust,'' Sarkozy said.

But he described Putin as a pragmatist. ''This should help us find a common language on these important international issues,'' he said in the interview.

A Kremlin official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sarkozy and Putin would focus on economic ties, in particular joint aerospace projects.

''(The talks will) continue the constructive and frank dialogue that the presidents started during their first personal meeting (at the Group of Eight summit) in Heiligendamm on June 7 2007,'' said the official.

Reuters ARB GC1355

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