By DESMOND BUTLER, AP, Washington Post, Sept. 21, 2007
WASHINGTON -- The United States and France agree on how to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday.
At a joint news conference Rice gave with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, both officials spoke of the need for new sanctions against Iran.
"I think that there's, essentially, no difference in the way that we see the situation in Iran and what the international community must do," Rice said.
Warm words between the two foreign policy counterparts marked a narrowing of differences since the days that Kouchner's predecessor, Dominique de Villepin, helped block a United Nations resolution sought by the United States on Iraq.
Since taking power in May, Kouchner's boss President Nicolas Sarkozy has set a very different tone of cooperation with the United States than Villepin and former President Jacques Chirac. But Kouchner's visit and France's recent moves on Iran seemed to illustrate that the change was more than tone.
The two countries were preparing the groundwork for a new U.N. Security Council resolution at a meeting in Washington on Friday of political directors from six major nations that have been trying to negotiate with Iran _ Russia, China, Britain and Germany, as well as France and the United States.
Afterward, speaking for the group, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said their discussions were serious and constructive. They will reconvene next Friday in New York, Burns said.
On Friday, Italy also called for sanctions.
"There is still room for a strong initiative that can on one end put pressure through sanctions, even more severe sanctions, and on the other end really offer the possibility for negotiations and agreement," Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said in an interview on Italian state TV.
The French government's tougher line has brought it closer to the Bush administration, which has made a renewed U.S. push to tighten sanctions.
Rice said that she had also discussed Middle East peace efforts, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Lebanon. Standing next to Rice, Kouchner read a joint statement condemning the murder of Lebanese lawmaker Antoine Ghanem, killed in a powerful bomb blast two days ago. Ghanem, of the right-wing Phalange Party, was the fifth Christian to be killed in a wave of assassinations targeting anti-Syrian personalities.
"What is at stake, today, is the will of the murderers to disrupt the constitutional life of Lebanon, to deprive the Lebanese people and communities of their political rights in the framework of a united, sovereign and democratic Lebanon," Kouchner said.
During his two-day Washington visit, Kouchner has expanded on an earlier recommendation made by his boss, President Sarkozy, for tightening international sanctions against Iran.
Asked what kind of sanctions the United States would like to see through approved by the U.N. Security Council, Rice was vague.
"We have explored and have used various freezes on assets of individuals. We have used visa bans," she said. "I think that there are any number of ways that we can expand those efforts."
Kouchner also addressed his country's recent call for European Union sanctions against Iran. He said that European countries are discussing sanctions that would be targeted against banking and industrial interests in Iran.
In a speech Thursday, Kouchner said that France sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to global security.
"To those who say that we should handle Iran with kid gloves, since it could destabilize the region, I say this: look at its adventurism today and imagine what it would be like if Tehran thought itself one day protected by a nuclear umbrella," he said.
The tougher position has been welcomed in Washington, where Kouchner also met lawmakers, as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
In the joint news conference, Rice noted improved relations.
"It's an excellent relationship," she said. "I think there are many, many things that France and the United States are going to be able to do together."
Kouchner agreed, but said differences remain.
"Having good relations doesn't mean that we are in complete agreement every day, everywhere," he said. "But we have excellent relations."