France and Germany say Iran's nuclear program still a 'danger'

Posted in Europe , Iran | 07-Dec-07 | Author: Katrin Bennhold| Source: International Herald Tribune

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris December 6, 2007.

PARIS: France and Germany said Thursday that Iran remained a "danger" and that the international community needed to keep up the pressure over its nuclear program despite a U.S. intelligence report concluding that Tehran was no longer building a bomb.

The joint remarks, from two countries that have been important in the diplomatic standoff with Iran, will have come as a relief to Washington four days after the publication of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate was feared to erode support for tougher new sanctions.

Speaking in a joint news conference at Élysée Palace, President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated that the findings had not changed their mind.

"The threat exists," said Sarkozy, one of the staunchest defenders of tough new measures. "Notwithstanding the latest elements, everyone is fully conscious of the fact that there is a will among the Iranian leaders to obtain nuclear weapons."

"I don't see why we should renounce sanctions," he added. "What made Iran budge so far has been sanctions and firmness."

Merkel stopped short of explicitly mentioning sanctions, but also appeared determined to support current negotiations in the UN Security Council about new measures.

"I think that we are in a process and that Iran continues to pose a danger," she said.

The National Intelligence Estimate made public on Monday said that Tehran had frozen its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

But it also said the country was continuing to build up technical know-how that could be used both for civilian and military purposes.

Both leaders urged to continue with a twin strategy of combining pressure with dialogue.

In comments apparently aimed at Russia and China, two members of the Security Council who have dragged their feed on new sanctions, Sarkozy urged that there be a "coherent" position, a view Merkel said she shared.

Rice wants more pressure

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began talks on Thursday in Brussels with European and Russian officials to urge greater international pressure on Iran to halt uranium enrichment and answer questions about its nuclear programs, The Associated Press reported.

The talks are Rice's first face-to-face sessions with world powers considering new UN sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program since the National Intelligence Estimate was released Monday.

"I don't see that the NIE changes the course that we're on," Rice told reporters as she flew to Belgium for a conference of NATO foreign ministers and talks between the alliance and former Cold War foe Russia, which, along with China, has been particularly resistant to new sanctions.

Rice also will see the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, on Friday. Israeli officials say their intelligence forces believe Iran is still working aggressively to build nuclear arms, despite the new U.S. conclusion about Iran.