Sarkozy: Nuclear Iran unacceptable

Urges dialogue with Teheran; says depriving Arabs of nuclear energy could spur fundamentalism.

sarkozy in US 224.88 (photo credit: )
sarkozy in US 224.88
(photo credit: )
French President Nicolas Sarkozy reiterated on Wednesday that an Iran with nuclear weapons is "unacceptable," but backed the country's aspirations for a civil nuclear program. He was speaking to the American Jewish Committee, which honored Sarkozy with its Light Unto the Nations Award during his first official trip to Washington as president. Sarkozy urged a continuation of dialogue with the Islamic Republic, but reiterated statements he made at the United Nations General Assembly earlier this fall, saying, "Nuclear weapons for Iran is unacceptable." But fundamentalism and terrorism could grow, he warned, if deprived of their "lifeline" or nuclear energy. "I believe that Arab countries, including Iran [sic], have a right to civilian nuclear power," Sarkozy said, mentioning Syria as well. Sarkozy also praised Israel as a "miracle" and emphasized the obligation the world has to guarantee Israel's security, following its emergence out of the ashes of the Holocaust. "Israel's security is nonnegotiable," he said. He added, though, that an important move for Israel's security would be the establishment of a Palestinian state. He suggested that, "Instead of having two states, I think you should have two nation-states." French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, speaking after Sarkozy's speech, clarified that the concept of "nation-state" extended beyond being a state of its citizens to one that protected nationality, as well. In that context, Israel would be a state for the Israeli-Jewish nationality, while Palestine would be the nation-state of the Palestinians. Sarkozy also attacked the "face of hate and stupidity," namely anti-Semitism, and said it had to be confronted head-on. He decried those in France who would not acknowledge attacks on Jewish people and property as anti-Semitism, as well as those who tried to "explain" or "understand" these attacks. "When you try to explain the inexplicable, then you are on the path to forgiving the unforgivable," he said. "Are there rationales for rape? Are there rationales for bank robbery?" Sarkozy stressed the importance of religious freedom, include that of Muslims to worship peacefully in France. But, he added, that tolerance must go both ways. "If diversity is good for us, then truly it's necessary for you. I will insist on this concept of reciprocity. It is essential." Sarkozy's speech to the AJC was sandwiched into a whirlwind morning that included a phone conversation with leading Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton and an address to Congress, and ended with lunch with US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The visit is widely seen as bolstering US-French relations after a long period of wariness and tension as France criticized US policy in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. Since Sarkozy came into office last spring, the relationship between the two countries has grown warmer, as many of the new president's conservative policies align nicely with those of the Bush administration. One of the most significant topic areas is Iran, which was expected to play a major role in Sarkozy's conversations with Washington leaders. Sarkozy has advocated strengthening sanctions on Teheran and has helped lead efforts on that front. Though France has traditionally had strong business ties with Iran, Sarkozy said Wednesday that he recently told France's business community that "there should be no double-talk, with political firmness and economic leniency. We can't have it both ways." Meanwhile, Italy's Premier Romano Prodi said Tuesday he opposed any military action against Iran over its nuclear program because such an attack could destabilize the entire Middle East. In a speech delivered to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, during the king's visit to Rome, Prodi said Italy was against "any military solution," adding that "in addition to not solving the problem, it would open new destabilizing scenarios in the whole region." Prodi also said Iran had every right to a peaceful nuclear program, while the international community had an equal right to verify its peaceful nature using "the existing judicial measures." Italy, which as of this year is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, traditionally has had good relations with Teheran and maintains a strong presence in Iran's gas market through Italian oil and gas giant Eni SpA. Senior government officials, including the foreign minister, have spoken out against any use of force against Iran, saying that a new war in the region would be disastrous and calling instead for increased diplomatic efforts. AP contributed to this report.