Time running out for Iran diplomacy: Sarkozy

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 20, 2012 7:58 AM
Time running out for Iran diplomacy: Sarkozy

By John Irish and Daniel Flynn

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday that time was running out to avoid a military intervention in Iran and he appealed to China and Russia to support new sanctions to force Tehran to negotiate over its uranium enrichment program.

France has led international efforts for tougher measures to increase pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program since talks between Tehran and six world powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- stalled.

Western nations have voiced mounting concern that Israel could launch a preemptive attack against Tehran, deepening instability in an already volatile region.

"Time is running out. France will do everything to avoid a military intervention," Sarkozy told French ambassadors gathered in Paris. "A military intervention will not solve the problem, but it will unleash war and chaos in the Middle East."

Israel and the United States have refused to rule out military action while Iran continues enrichment operations which they say are aimed at seeking nuclear weapons. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Wednesday, however, that any decision about an Israeli assault on Iran was "very far off." [nL6E8CI0NH]

Tehran insists its nuclear research has only peaceful civilian ends and has refused to discuss it with Western powers.

EU foreign ministers are expected to agree an oil embargo against Iran, the world's fifth largest exporter, and a freeze on the assets of its central bank at a meeting on Monday in Brussels.

Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, used for a third of the world's seaborne oil trade, if Western moves to ban Iranian crude exports cripple its lifeblood energy sector.

Sarkozy urged Russia and China to back the tougher sanctions. The two emerging powers, which have also blocked efforts at the EU Security Council on Syria, have shown their unwillingness to back further oil sanctions on Iran, creating a rift in the international community.

"We need stronger, more decisive sanctions that stop the purchase of Iranian oil and freeze the assets of the central bank, and those who don't want that will be responsible for the risks of a military conflict," Sarkozy said.

"Help us guarantee peace in the world. We really need you," Sarkozy said, in a direct appeal to Moscow and Beijing.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said during a visit to the region on Thursday that Beijing opposes any Iranian effort to acquire nuclear weapons but he defended his country's extensive oil trade with Tehran.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)