PARIS (AFP) – A warning from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that the world has to prepare for a possible war with Iran over its nuclear programme triggered alarm in the Middle East and elsewhere Monday.
Iran’s official media launched a scathing response to the remarks, made in a broadcast interview Sunday evening, and accused Paris of pandering to the United States.
“The new occupants of the Elysee (presidential palace) want to copy the White House,” the state-owned IRNA news agency said in an editorial.
Accusing French President Nicolas Sarkozy of taking on “an American skin”, it said that “the French people will never forget the era when a non-European moved into the Elysee.”
Kouchner, a former international charity chief and Socialist health minister, said that the world should negotiate with Iran “right to the end” over its nuclear programme.
But, Kouchner warned, “We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war.”
He said that if Tehran possessed an atomic weapon, it would be a “real danger for the whole world.”
He added that the current stand-off was “the greatest crisis” of present times.
The minister spoke ahead of a visit to Moscow Monday where Iran’s nuclear ambitions will be the main subject of discussion.
Also on Monday the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) opens its annual conference in Vienna, with Iran top of the agenda.
On Friday the five permanent UN Security Council members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany are due to discuss a new draft resolution on sanctions against Iran.
Kouchner said that if the UN is unable to agree on a new round of sanctions, then the European Union should prepare its own.
“We have decided that while negotiations are continuing … to prepare eventual sanctions outside the ambit of UN sanctions. Our good friends, the Germans, suggested that,” he said.
And he said that leading French companies such as Total and Gaz de France have been urged not to sign new contracts with Iran.
Tehran, which denies seeking to build an atomic weapon, was contemptuous of France’s stance.
“The occupants of the Elysee have become the executors of the will of the White House and have adopted a tone that is even harder, even more inflammatory and more illogical than that of Washington,” IRNA said.
But Israel welcomed Kouchner’s comments, with foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev saying that sent a “clear message to Tehran.”
“Iran will not abandon its programme of nuclear armament until it has understood that the international community is serious, united and determined in its opposition,” he said.
In Washington, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates took a more guarded approach.
“I will tell you that I think the administration believes at this point that continuing to try and deal with the Iranian threat … through diplomatic and economic means is by far the preferable approach,” he said.