Chirac Leans Toward Iran to Protect French UN Troops

French President Jacque Chirac has announced his support for lessening pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program, for fear Hezbollah will strike at French troops serving in Lebanon, according to information recently received in Jerusalem. According to reports, Chirac proposed sending a special envoy to Tehran to reach understandings that would protect the French soldiers serving in in the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

A government source said Chirac's position is controversial in Paris, with the French Foreign Ministry continuing to support a hard line with regard to the Iranian nuclear program, a position also expressed yesterday by the French ambassador to Israel, Jean-Michel Casa, in an interview with Haaretz.

Chirac told reporters at the end of January that it would not be terrible if Iran had a nuclear bomb or two, but quickly reversed himself following protests from officials at home. Israeli experts said that the link Chirac is making between French presence in Lebanon and the closing down of Iran's nuclear program shows the shortcomings of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the second Lebanon war. According to one expert, Israel "begged the French to send soldiers to Lebanon" and end up paying for it by damaging its strategic interests. Israel is conducting an intensive international diplomatic effort to increase sanctions on Iran, in an attempt to put a stop to its nuclear program.

About two weeks ago, the United States under secretary of state for arms control and international security, Robert Joseph, visited Israel with his successor, John Rood, now chief of international security in the State Department. They two were briefed by Israeli experts on Iran's domestic situation and discussed ways of promoting sanctions.

The Security Council voted to impose "soft sanctions" on Iran in the face of its refusal to stop enriching uranium. But the sanctions committee has yet to be created.

The European Union has not created an agreed-on policy regarding enforcement of sanctions.

The Foreign Ministry's deputy director general for strategic affairs, Miriam Ziv, went to Moscow at the head of an interministerial delegation to talks on Iran's nuclear program. The Russians told her they were sending harshly worded messages to Iran on all levels and had even met with Iran's spiritual leader, Ali Khamani.

This week Ziv will meet in Berlin with senior German Foreign Ministry officials.

A government source in Jerusalem said foreign delegations listen to Israel, and are not trying to create a link between stopping Iran's nuclear program and regional nuclear disarmament or progress toward a peace agreement on the Israeli-Palestinian front.