Iran Rebuffs European Pressure

Sarkozy calls for 'much stronger sanctions' against the Islamic republic, promises that France would 'do everything to avoid a military intervention.'

PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday warned against any military action on Iran, saying a strike would "trigger war and chaos in the Middle East."

As European and U.S. leaders were urging Iran to engage in dialogue about their nuclear program, Sarkozy called for "much stronger sanctions" against the Islamic republic but promised that France would "do everything to avoid a military intervention."

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Jan. 13, 2012 (AP)

Sarkozy stressed that military action "would not solve the problem" of Iran's nuclear plans, and could even lead to war in the region "and maybe the world." He also called on Russia and China to "help us guarantee peace in the world ... we clearly need you."

Iran, in response, charged that Sarkozy's comments were off the mark, Iranian state television network IRIB reported yesterday.

"The nature of Iran's nuclear programs are peaceful, and all activities are transparent and in constant cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.

However, most European Union countries are, like Sarkozy, unconvinced. Their foreign ministers meet on Monday to discuss extra sanctions, and are expected to agree on an oil embargo as well as other financial sanctions, such as freezing the assets of the Iran Central Bank.

Passing these sanctions requires unanimous backing among the bloc's 27 nations. The embargo would hurt countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain, which are dependent on Iranian supplies and would need to find alternate sources.

Speaking in advance of the meeting, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Bloomberg that Greece and others were "in an extremely difficult situation," but said that widening sanctions on Iran's energy and financial sectors was the right move.

The foreign minister said the prospect of higher oil costs pales compared to the strategic costs if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, which he said would be "10 to 100 times more."

Meanwhile, the EU on Friday released an October 21 letter that foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton wrote to Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, outlining the EU's interest in talks.

The main focus of the talks needed to be on "developing practical steps aimed at rebuilding confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature" of Iran's nuclear activities, Ashton wrote.

"It is crucial to look for concrete results," she added. Her office said she is still waiting for a reply.

The last talks between the two sides took place in Istanbul a year ago and produced no results.