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Iran risks Israeli strike, French leader warns

Attack would be a 'catastrophe'

By Francois Murphy and Emmanuel Jarry
Reuters / September 5, 2008
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DAMASCUS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Iran yesterday it was taking a dangerous gamble in seeking to develop nuclear weapons because one day its archfoe Israel could strike.

Western powers accuse Iran of seeking the atom bomb under the cover of a civilian nuclear program, but Tehran denies the allegation, insisting it wants only to master atomic technology in order to generate electricity.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action if the dispute cannot be settled through diplomacy.

"Iran is taking a major risk in continuing the process to obtain a military nuclear capacity," Sarkozy said at a meeting in Damascus with the leaders of Syria, Turkey and Qatar.

"One day, whatever the Israeli government, we could find one morning that Israel has struck," Sarkozy added.

"The question is not whether it would be legitimate, whether it would be intelligent. What will we do at that moment? It would be a catastrophe. We must avoid that catastrophe," Sarkozy said in comments broadcast on television.

Speculation about a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities has risen since Israel staged an air force exercise over the Mediterranean in June that was reported to simulate a strike against Iran.

The French leader has asked President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to help resolve the standoff with Iran, a close ally of Syria, and Assad has pledged his assistance. "The solution is to find a mechanism to prove that this nuclear program is a peaceful program," Assad told France 2 television, adding that he understood why the West was worried about the idea of Iran getting the bomb.

"Of course the West is frightened. We don't want the nuclear bomb in the Middle East," he said.

The UN Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions against Iran over its failure to heed calls to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for power plants or, potentially, nuclear weapons.

Sarkozy repeated his call on Iran to halt enrichment and said Tehran should accept stricter inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"If Iran continues enrichment, that is a problem. But IAEA checks should at least take place in a complete manner. Then good faith would be established," he said.

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