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PARIS - French President Jacques Chirac has told Haaretz that if European negotiations with Iran fail to eliminate the threat of nuclear proliferation, then the issue will have to be moved to the UN Security Council.

Chirac's statements regarding the possibility of imposing sanctions on Iran, which, according to observers, is the first time he has taken that position, came in an interview with Haaretz on the eve of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's state visit to France Wednesday.

"I hope that [the European negotiations with Iran] will succeed and eliminate the danger of the proliferation of nuclear weapons," Chirac said. "If this does not prove to be the case, it will, of course, be necessary to transfer the handling [of the Iranian problem] to the UN Security Council."

The French president, meanwhile, spoke highly of Sharon and Israel, in preparation of the premier's upcoming visit to Paris.

"I wish to convey my profound admiration and friendship I feel toward the State of Israel and the Israeli people - a great people of tradition and culture, which is looking to the future," Chirac said.

"In welcoming Prime Minister Sharon to Paris, France is sending its friend, Israel, a message of trust: A profound belief that peace is possible, a desire to contribute to the peace, an aspiration to be Israel's top-ranked partner politically, economically, and culturally, in keeping with the depth of the ties uniting our peoples and in accordance with the lofty mission assigned to both peoples because of their common heritage."

Officials in Jerusalem were highly gratified by Chirac's warm and unusual statements. A Prime Minister's Bureau source said that "Sharon intends to respond to Chirac in kind," and that the visit - Sharon's first state visit to Paris since 2001 - is expected to be "a visit of agreement" that will reflect the substantial warming of bilateral relations over the past two years.

In the same vein, Chirac said that "mothing can justify terror... We understand well [Israel's contention with Palestinian terrorism], and we have always condemned the acts of terror of which Israelis are the victims." Asked specifically about Israel's "targeted assassinations" in the territories, Chirac opted to avoid addressing the question and not to repeat previous condemnations.

Chirac also took a categorical and surprising stance against Hamas in the interview. "Hamas is a terrorist organization that cannot be an interlocutor of the international community, as long as it does not renounce violence and does not recognize Israel's right to exist. This is the unambiguous position of the EU and it will not change."

However, like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Chirac believes that when it comes to terrorism, "We must deal with all the factors that nourish the hatred and the frustrations: the unresolved conflicts, the religious intolerance, the rejection of the other, and the economic instability."

Asked whether the time had not come to add Hezbollah to the European list of terrorist organizations, Chirac referred to UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and the demand for militias to disarm: "The Lebanese must create the framework and the process that will lead to this disarmament."