Iran closer to nuclear bomb than IAEA thinks-France

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ABU DHABI, Oct 29 (Reuters) France's defence minister brushed aside today remarks by the head of the UN nuclear watchdog that there was no proof Iran was building an atomic bomb, saying France had information to the ''contrary''.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei said yesterday Tehran was still years away from having the ability to produce a nuclear weapon and that the IAEA had no evidence it was building a bomb.

''Our information, which is backed up by other countries, is contrary (to ElBaradei's comments),'' Herve Morin told a news conference in Abu Dhabi when asked about ElBaradei's remarks.

Morin did not elaborate on the information his country had.

Iran rejects accusations it is seeking atom bombs.

''If ... ElBaradei is right then there is no reason that Iran stops ElBaradei and the IAEA from carrying out inspections. If (the nuclear programme) is only civil what would be the reason to stop international inspections?'' Iran, which stonewalled IAEA investigators for years, is to provide answers to IAEA questions in phases by the end of the year under an agreement reached in August.

The August agreement prompted world powers to postpone a third round of UN sanctions until at least November.

A senior IAEA official said cooperation with Iran was ''good'' ahead of talks on Monday with Iranian officials about Tehran's disputed atomic work, after an Iranian warning that new US sanctions could harm ties with the agency.

Morin said Paris wants sanctions imposed on Iran although such shackles would affect French interests negatively.

''We wish that new economic and financial sanctions by the international community (United Nations and European Union) would be implemented.

''These sanctions could be done even to the cost of the French economy and as you know we have important interests of Total and Renault (in Iran),'' he said. ''But for us the Iran nuclear issue is essential to the stability of the (West Asia) region. On this the French political will if final.'' Morin reiterated that Paris was not in favour of a war to force the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear programme.

''We never spoke about war. We think that Iran can understand that it's in its interest to return to negotiations and the discussion table. The idea of war for France does not exist,'' said the French minister who arrived in the United Arab Emirates after visiting Saudi Arabia.

US-allied Gulf Arab states including Saudi Arabia and the UAE have repeatedly expressed concern over Iran's nuclear programme.

Reuters GT GC2336

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