UPDATE 1-France urges Iran oil purchase freeze, sanctions

Mon Nov 21, 2011 3:10pm EST

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PARIS Nov 21 (Reuters) - France called for new sanctions on an "unprecedented scale" against Iran on Monday in response to Tehran's nuclear programme, urging world powers to halt purchases of Iranian oil and freeze its central bank assets.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent letters to the leaders of the United States, Britain, Germany, the European Union, Canada and Japan proposing the new actions after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voiced new concerns about Iran's nuclear programme last week.

"As Iran steps up its nuclear programme, refuses negotiation and condemns its people to isolation, France advocates new sanctions on an unprecedented scale to convince Iran that it must negotiate," said a statement from Sarkozy's office.

"France therefore proposes to the European Union and its member states, the United States, Japan and Canada and other willing countries to take the decision to immediately freeze the assets of the Iranian central bank (and) stop purchases of Iranian oil," it added.

Iranian Industry Minister Mehdi Ghazanfari warned on Monday that threats from Western countries to tighten sanctions were only harming their own interests.

The French statement urged Iran to suspend all nuclear and balistic missile activities banned by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as well as U.N. and IAEA resolutions immediately. It called on Tehran to be open about its nuclear programme by fully cooperating with the IAEA.

France also said that Iran should stop threatening its neighbours and countries in the region.

Britain ordered its financial institutions on Monday to stop doing business with Iranian counterparts although a source in London said the new sanctions would not target oil trading.

"The Iranian regime's behaviour is a grave and urgent threat to peace," the French statement said.

"In addition to the unacceptable threat of nuclear proliferation, there is also the risk of triggering a military escalation in the region, which could have catastrophic consequences for Iran and the world," it added.

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