Iran Nuclear NewsFrench official shows reluctance on a blockage of gasoline...

French official shows reluctance on a blockage of gasoline for Iran


ImageNew York Times: Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said Monday that he had deep misgivings about blocking shipments of refined fuel to Iran, one of the sanctions being weighed by the Obama administration if the Iranian government does not negotiate on its nuclear program. The New York Times


ImageUNITED NATIONS — Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said Monday that he had deep misgivings about blocking shipments of refined fuel to Iran, one of the sanctions being weighed by the Obama administration if the Iranian government does not negotiate on its nuclear program.

“I think this is a bit dangerous,” Mr. Kouchner said in an interview here, where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly. A blockade would harm the Iranian people, he said, “and mainly poor people.”

“This is a choice; we have to study it also,” he said. “But it is not my personal favorite at all.”

French officials cautioned later that the government had not decided its position on such a measure. It was not clear whether President Nicolas Sarkozy of France shared Mr. Kouchner’s reservations. But if France is to come out against fuel sanctions, analysts said, they will most likely be off the table as an option for increasing the pressure on Iran.

As dozens of world leaders began gathering here on Monday for the General Assembly, the puzzle of how to confront Iran and another defiant, nuclear-minded state, North Korea, continued to stymie diplomats. Old strategies have proved fruitless, but it is difficult to build support for bold new ones.

On Monday, President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea proposed to offer North Korea what he called a “grand bargain,” a package of incentives in return for which the North would give up its nuclear weapons.

“This is a one-shot deal,” he said in an interview. “We will deal with the core issue, once and for all, and then provide North Korea incentives in return for them fully and irrevocably dismantling their nuclear weapons program.”

Such an approach, Mr. Lee said, would avoid the pitfalls of past negotiations, which took a step-by-step approach, and ended in failure when North Korea reneged on certain elements.

The incentives could include economic aid, Mr. Lee said, and the details could be worked out among the five countries that negotiate as a group with the North: South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia.

Mr. Lee’s proposal caught the United States by surprise. A senior administration official said the United States admired the South Korean leader and worked well with his government. But, he said, trying to solve the North Korean nuclear problem in a single step seemed “far-fetched.”

The United Nations Security Council was unified in imposing strict new sanctions on North Korea after it tested its second nuclear device in May. Mr. Lee noted that China, which historically resisted tough measures against the North, has joined in efforts to cut off financing for weapons programs and supported halting North Korean ships with suspect cargos.

But that solidarity may not extend to Iran, especially were the United States to push for stricter sanctions if Iranian leaders do not respond to President Obama’s diplomatic overtures.

Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia said last week that he doubted the Security Council would support an embargo of refined fuel products against Iran. Such a step, Mr. Lavrov said, was “not a mechanism to force Iran to cooperate,” but a “step to a full-blown blockade.”

For the United States, which has viewed such a measure as a possibility, rejection of a fuel embargo would narrow the options for pressing Iran to negotiate.

American officials plan to meet with Iranian officials on Oct. 1 for the first face-to-face talks since Mr. Obama took office. American officials said Iran’s nuclear ambitions would be at the top of the agenda, though Iran has insisted it would not discuss its program, which it says is for peaceful purposes, to generate energy.

The talks, which are to include France, Russia, Britain, Germany and China, are likely to be held in Turkey. Mr. Kouchner said the countries would meet over the next few days to develop talking points for the meeting.

“We welcome direct dialogue with the Iranians,” he said. “But I have no predetermination.”

Mr. Kouchner, a physician who founded the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders before entering politics, called attention to the changing political landscape in Iran.

While he said previous efforts to negotiate with Tehran had been futile, the political upheaval following the Iranian presidential election in June might give the West new opportunities to reach out to Iranians.

The West, he said, needed to give “intellectual asylum” to those who protested in the streets after the election, which gave a lopsided victory to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and which many Iranians have contested as fraudulent.

Cutting off shipments of gasoline and other refined fuel products is seen as an effective form of pressure against Iran. Although it is one of the world’s largest producers of crude oil, Iran imports about 40 percent of its gasoline to supply its population with plentiful, cheap fuel.

Other sanctions, including financial measures, could be used to pressure Iran, Mr. Kouchner said. He noted that President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia recently refused to rule out fresh sanctions, although Mr. Kouchner said Mr. Medvedev’s carefully hedged words were a “weak signal.”

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.

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