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France Suggests More Iran Sanctions Possible


France's foreign minister has suggested that France and its allies may pursue more sanctions against Iran following the failure of the latest talks between the Islamic republic and world powers to result in any significant breakthrough in the standoff over the Iranian nuclear program.

Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, speaking on a visit to Jordan, said the lack of progress with Iran during two days of talks in Istanbul had left Western countries with few options.

She said France and its allies were likely to continue with an approach to Tehran that combines offers of negotiations with strengthened sanctions if talks fail to result in progress.

"We are determined to try and find a diplomatic solution," Alliot-Marie said.

"Ultimately, it is up to the Iranians to come back and choose dialogue. But we will still have the double-approach -- that is, to offer talks on a number of issues while at the same time strengthening the sanctions if there is no progress."

Iran Won't Stop

During the meetings in Istanbul, Iran ruled out the possibility of abandoning its uranium-enrichment work.

But suspending enrichment is a key demand of Western states, and the United Nations Security Council has already imposed four sets of sanctions against Iran over its refusal to halt enrichment.

Iranian delegates also snubbed a deal under which Iran would ship some of its enriched uranium out of the country in exchange for foreign-supplied, specialized fuel for its medical reactor in Tehran.

The Istanbul meetings -- bringing an Iranian delegation together with representatives from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States -- ended on January 22 without any agreement or plan for the parties to meet again.

Speaking at a news conference after the talks, the chief negotiator for the six world powers, EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, blamed Iran.

"This is not the conclusion I had hoped for. We had hoped to embark on a discussion of practical ways forward, and have made every effort to make that happen," she said. "I'm disappointed to say that this has not been possible."

At a separate conference, chief Iranian negotiator Said Jalili reiterated his country's stance that any agreement with world powers over its nuclear program should be based on Tehran's right to nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment.

Ashton said Tehran's preconditions for talks were unacceptable. These include a demand that the UN Security Council lift sanctions imposed because of Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

She said the two sides had set no date for any new meeting but that Iran's interlocutors were still open for dialogue if Tehran adopted a more constructive approach.

"Our proposals remain on the table, our door remains open, our telephone lines are open," Ashton said. "We hope that they will consider them, and respond to them. If they do, we will be able to move forward into further discussion."

The West suspects Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists its atomic energy program is peaceful. The Islamic republic has refused to grant free access for UN nuclear inspectors.

Iran also rejected a proposal for a bilateral meeting with the United States in Istanbul as unnecessary.

compiled from agency reports