SEPT 18 2007



Russia expressed apprehension Tuesday over the possibility of a war with Iran evoked by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who again urged tougher sanctions to halt Tehran's nuclear programme.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasised Russia's "concern" over "multiple reports that military action against Iran is being seriously considered. It's hard to imagine what that could do to the region."

Kouchner, on a visit to Russia, meanwhile called for "working on precise sanctions" and added that France and Russia had differences on the issue.

However, the French foreign minister underlined that "everything should be done to avoid war."

"War is the worst that could happen," he said. "Everything should be done to avoid war. We have to negotiate, negotiate, negotiate -- without cease, without rebuff."

His comments appeared aimed at quieting an uproar over his statement Sunday that the world should prepare for a possible war with Iran -- a warning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed Tuesday as fanciful.

Kouchner blamed the media for distorting his statement that "we have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war."

"As usual with journalists, they take one phrase and you don't know what came after," he told Russia's Echo of Moscow radio late Tuesday.

"They're saying: Bernard Kouchner wants war. But it's not true. It's a manipulation. I don't want war, I want peace."

The Russian and French ministers met ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on Friday that may impose new sanctions against Tehran for its controversial uranium enrichment activity.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday urged dialogue to resolve the impasse and reiterated a plea to Tehran to stop enriching uranium.

"I would sincerely hope and urge the Iranian authorities to fully comply with Security Council resolutions so that other remaining issues will be dealt with in peaceful negotiations," he told a press conference in New York.

Iran's ambassador to Paris, Ali Ahani, meanwhile voiced his surprise at the "martial rhetoric" used by Kouchner, saying Tehran got the "impression that French diplomacy is going to follow the American line."

Iranian leader Ahmadinejad dismissed talk of war, saying: "Comments to the media are different to the real positions."

Tehran vehemently denies US accusations it is seeking an atomic weapon, saying its nuclear drive is aimed at generating electricity.

Russia, which is building Iran's first nuclear reactor in the southern Russian city of Bushehr, has consistently warned against attacking the Islamic republic.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov has warned that a "bombing of Iran would ... end with catastrophic consequences."

The United States has never ruled out using military strikes to punish Iran for defying UN Security Council demands that it halt its enrichment activity.

General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, said Tuesday he had no doubt that Iran was giving "lethal" support to Iraqi militias but stressed he had not thought of launching military operations inside Iran.

"I certainly have not sought authorisation to cross the border into Iran. We have our hands full in Iraq," he told a news conference in London.

Meanwhile, Alain Bugat, the head of France's atomic energy commissariat, told the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA that Iran's defiance to stop enriching uranium, "makes it necessary to adopt new sanctions."

Iran has said it would never initiate an attack but would respond with crushing force if the United States launched a strike on its territory.

Kouchner is set to fly to Washington on Wednesday to take up the issue with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.







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