PARIS - France's main negotiator in talks between six world powers and Iran is leaving his post at a crucial moment, less than two months before the deadline for a final agreement over Tehran's nuclear program.

Jacques Audibert, who has pushed for a tough line on Iran, has been promoted to a senior role in President Francois Hollande's diplomatic team, the president's office said on Thursday.

Paris has long held out for strict terms in the talks, in which the United States, Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France are contemplating a further easing of economic sanctions if Iran can dispel their concerns that it wants to build nuclear weapons - an intention it strongly denies.

Under Audibert, that stance has toughened. With concerns rising among Iran's foes, especially Israel and the Gulf states, that the United States has turned softer on Iran, France has become a key player in defending their interests.

In 2011, it successfully pushed for a European Union oil embargo and stricter controls over Iran's central bank.


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