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French President Nicholas Sarkozy called Wednesday for sanctions on Iran to be tightened if the country does not adhere to the West's demands to cease its nuclear agenda.
If Iran attains nuclear weapons, Sarkozy warned, a road to an arms race will be paved that could endanger Israel and southeast Europe, he said during an interview with a German magazine.
Sarkozy announced that France will join the official US-led struggle against head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei, who recommended that Iran be allowed to enrich uranium in some of its nuclear plants.
On Tuesday, American officials urged allies to back a formal protest against ElBaradei, saying his comments could hurt UN Security Council efforts to pressure Teheran over its enrichment program.
"We were indeed surprised by several comments from Mr. ElBaradei over the weekend," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei. "We share the gist of concerns expressed by our American partners - along with several other partners, for that matter."
Over the past two weeks, ElBaradei has publicly said he believes it is too late to force Teheran to scrap its enrichment program as demanded by the Security Council, and argued instead for implementing inspection safeguards to prevent an expansion of the program.
"I can confirm that our permanent representative in Vienna will take part in the American initiative," Mattei said, referring to the Austrian capital where the International Atomic Energy Agency is based.
Mattei also took issue with ElBaradei's recent reference to French intelligence about the speed of Iran's nuclear program, without providing details.
"In addition, the IAEA director-general referred, in one of his public statements, to analyses from French intelligence services over the time that it would take Iran to have access to a nuclear weapon," Mattei said. "We aren't in the habit of releasing national intelligence analyses publicly - much less through an international organization."
Despite ElBaradei's recent comments, on Wednesday he released a report saying that Iran continues to defy UN Security Council demands to scrap its uranium enrichment program and has instead expanded its activities.
ElBaradei also faulted Teheran for blocking IAEA efforts to probe suspicious nuclear activities, saying that meant it could not "provide assurances about... the exclusively peaceful nature" of its atomic program.
And, in new and worrying phrasing, it expressed concern about its "deteriorating" understanding of unexplored aspects of the program, despite four years of a probe sparked by revelations that Teheran had been clandestinely developing enrichment and other nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons for nearly two decades.
The report, one of a series keeping the IAEA's 35-nation board and the Security Council up to date on the agency's monitoring efforts, was posted simultaneously on the IAEA internal website and handed over to the president of the Security Council for distribution among its members.
The brevity of the 4-page report indirectly reflected the lack of progress agency inspectors had made clearing up unresolved issues, among them; Iran's possession of diagrams showing how to form uranium into warhead form; unexplained uranium contamination at a research facility; information on high explosives experiments that could be linked to a nuclear program and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle.