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France's Sarkozy Wants 'Firmness' In U.S.-Iran Talks

French President Nicolas Sarkozy
KUWAIT (Reuters) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he wants U.S. President Barack Obama to act firmly in any direct talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

Sarkozy said during a visit to Kuwait that the new U.S. administration should be resolute in its dealings with Iran.

"I strongly hope that the new U.S. president, Mr. Barack Obama, launches these talks with a spirit of dialogue, of course, and with a certain firmness," Sarkozy told a news conference after holding talks with Kuwaiti officials on closer ties and the possible sale of Rafale combat jets and warships.

In a break from the policy of former President George W. Bush, Obama has said he is willing to start talks with Iran, which Washington and allies such as France and Britain believe is amassing the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

Tehran says it only wants to master atomic technology to generate electricity.

Sarkozy said he did not expect any talks to take place before the Iranian presidential election in June, which the West hopes will see President Mahmud Ahmadinejad replaced by a more moderate figure.

"I think it is wise to wait until these elections take place for the talks to enter a new phase," Sarkozy said.

The French president added that Paris and Kuwait were in talks on a possible sale of warships and 14-28 Rafale fighter aircraft, a high-tech but expensive jet for which France has yet to find a foreign buyer.

"We have set the end of the year as a deadline," he said.

Sarkozy said he was committed to helping to maintain security in the Gulf region and that France and Kuwait were working on a strategic partnership that could be concluded before the end of the year.

"France confirms its resolute, determined engagement for the security of our Kuwaiti friends," he said. "Kuwait can count on France."