Merkel, Sarkozy present united front on Iran

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BERLIN, Nov 12 (Reuters) Germany and France agreed today that a twin-track approach of sanctions and dialogue was the best way to deal with Iran's nuclear programme, but said time was against them on the issue.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy also reaffirmed their commitment to Europe's planned Galileo satellite navigation system, adding they wanted to reach an agreement on funding for the project by the end of November.

The leaders and their cabinets met in Berlin, days after both separately held talks with met US President George W Bush, with whom they discussed tougher sanctions against Iran.

French television showed a young man appearing to lunge towards Sarkozy and Merkel during a walkabout in the German capital earlier in the day. Neither leader appeared flustered.

A police spokesman said the 25-year-old man shouted out at Merkel in protest at German plans to reform the way data on individuals is stored but that he did not get close to either leader and was quickly led away.

''On the issue of Iran, there is a great deal of agreement,'' Merkel, speaking at a news conference with Sarkozy, said of the German and French positions on Iran.

Sarkozy added: ''We may have, here or there maybe, a problem of tempo, but on the main points of this policy, we are on the same wavelength -- no nuclear arms for Iran, sanctions and dialogue.'' In September, European diplomats said Germany and France disagreed on how quickly world powers should push for a third round of sanctions if Tehran continues to refuse to suspend its nuclear enrichment programme.

But with Iran remaining defiant, Germany's reluctance to press for tougher economic penalties appears to have waned.

''The door remains open, but sanctions are firming up because time is working against us,'' Sarkozy said.

The West accuses Iran of seeking to develop an atomic weapon but Tehran says its nuclear programme is purely for the civilian purpose of generating electricity.

EUROPEAN INTEGRATION Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China are expected to meet on Nov 19 to assess reports on Iran from European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei.

Bush alarmed some European allies last month when he said a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three. The Bush administration insists it is committed to pursuing diplomacy with Iran, but also says all options are on the table.

European integration also featured on the agenda at the latest round of regular Merkel-Sarkozy meetings. Merkel said both countries wanted to find a solution for the Galileo project.

''Germany and France want to go ahead with this project. We do not want to delay it,'' Merkel said, adding that European Union transport ministers were aiming to put forward concrete proposals this month.

The two countries have been trying to sort out their differences on the system, which aims to compete with the US Global Positioning System (GPS).

Germany has resisted agreeing to using EU public funding to plug a hole in the project's budget, largely because it wants a guarantee that German firms will get a major share of the work, building satellites and launchers.

REUTERS PJ RAI2246

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