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France and US to seek fresh sanctions against Tehran

Following talks in Paris Monday, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and French Defence Minister Herve Morin said western countries had "no choice" following Iran’s decision to step up uranium enrichment, and new UN sanctions were the “only path”.


AFP - The United States and France said Monday they would push for new UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme after Tehran announced it was going to enrich uranium to a higher level.

Western powers condemned the move, which Germany said was a sign that Iran is not cooperating with the international community which wants the fuel to be upgraded abroad.

A top Russian lawmaker called Tehran's move "a sure step backward" and said new sanctions should be discussed -- a step Moscow has previously opposed.

Iran on Monday officially informed the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it planned to start enriching uranium to 20 percent on its own from Tuesday.

Western countries fear its nuclear programme masks plans to build an atomic bomb, a charge rejected by Tehran which insists its activities are strictly for energy purposes.

French Defence Minister Herve Morin, speaking after Paris talks with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates: "We have no choice but to work on other measures."

Morin, whose country holds the rotating chair on the UN Security Council, added: "It will unfortunately be necessary to launch a dialogue with the international community that will lead to new sanctions if Iran does not stop its programmes."

Gates, whose aides had earlier said the United States would ask France to submit a sanctions motion, said: "We are very much agreed that action by the international community is the next step."

Iran's move raises the stakes in a long-running dispute with the West less than a week after it had signalled it favoured a UN-drafted agreement on the supply of fuel for a research nuclear reactor in Tehran.

That deal envisages 3.5 percent uranium being sent to Russia and France for enrichment to 20 percent and then returned as fuel to Iran.

A nuclear weapon would require enrichment to 90 percent.

Separately, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that, because of Iranian "blackmail" over its nuclear programme, "alas, we can't apply anything other than sanctions since negotiation is not possible."

He suggested Iran did not have the required technology in any case, though experts are divided on the matter.

There was no immediate response from China, which US officials worry might thwart attempts to impose tougher sanctions.

Russia's foreign ministry said Iran must send its uranium abroad as a way out of the impasse, Interfax news agency reported.

Though Moscow backs Tehran's right to nuclear technology to generate power and is helping construct its first atomic power station, the Kremlin has also signalled it may support tough new sanctions.

"The international community should... send Tehran a new message about its intention to react with serious measures -- to the point of tougher economic sanctions," said Konstantin Kosachev, who heads the foreign affairs committee in the Russian parliament.

German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Berlin would monitor Iran's response "and then decide whether to boost the diplomatic pressure."

Germany is one of six world powers engaged in talks on the nuclear dispute and has recently bolstered its backing for a fourth round of sanctions.

In London, a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for a proper dialogue following the "mixed messages" coming from Iran.

"The prime minister has always been very clear, that Iran continues to face a choice, essentially -- either it engages with the international community or it can face further isolation."

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Iran's move was a "serious provocation" that would constitute a clear breach of UN resolutions.

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