Reuters: U.S. President Barack Obama underlined on Saturday the need for "tough diplomacy" in dealing with Iran's nuclear program and said he would be firm with North Korea as well after its second atomic bomb explosion.
By David Alexander
CAEN, France (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama underlined on Saturday the need for "tough diplomacy" in dealing with Iran's nuclear program and said he would be firm with North Korea as well after its second atomic bomb explosion.
Obama has said he is prepared to hold talks with Tehran "without preconditions" in a bid to ensure that it does not use its advanced nuclear technology to develop weapons. Iran says it is only trying to meet its booming demand for electricity.
After meeting his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of a ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of the World War Two D-Day landings, Obama said France was being firm with Iran.
Obama praised "France's leadership in Europe in understanding the need for us to have tough diplomacy with the Iranians, to reach out to them and also insist that we can't afford to have a nuclear arms race in the Middle East."
Iran has so far spurned approaches by six world powers — France, Britain, Germany, the United States, China and Russia — which have offered a package of incentives aimed at convincing it to abandon uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for power plants or, potentially, nuclear weapons.
Sarkozy met Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Paris last week. Mottaki delivered a message from "the highest Iranian authorities" and said Tehran was finalizing a counter-proposal to the package, a French official said.
With Iran's presidential elections just six days away, Sarkozy said he told Mottaki Iran needed to agree to talks soon.
"I told him, one, that they have to seize the hand stretched out by Barack Obama, set a date so that the group of six (powers) can begin to talk," Sarkozy told a news conference.
Sitting beside him, Obama said that if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon, "a whole host of countries in the Middle East" would try to do the same thing.
Obama also underlined that he would be firm with North Korea, which tested its second atom bomb last month.
Obama said North Korea's recent actions, which also include testing missiles, were "extraordinarily provocative" and would not be met with appeasement as they had been in the past.
"I don't think that there should be an assumption that we will simply continue down a path in which North Korea is constantly destabilizing the region and we just react in the same ways," Obama told reporters.
"We are not intending to continue a policy of rewarding provocation," he said, adding: "We are going to take a very hard look at how we move forward on these issues."
Obama also said he wanted to see "serious, constructive" Middle East peace talks this year aimed at finding a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
On the final leg of a brief tour of the Middle East and Europe, Obama was asked to clarify what he meant the previous day in Germany when he said he was confident progress could be made between the Palestinians and Israel this year.
"Progress would mean the parties involved … are in serious, constructive negotiations toward a two-state solution," he said.
"I do not expect that a 60-year problem is solved overnight, but as I have said before, I do expect both sides to recognize that their fates are tied together," he added.
(Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Jon Hemming)