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World News

Sarkozy warns Iran after nuclear talks in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Iran Wednesday that it risked deepening its international isolation if it did not agree to talks with the world’s biggest powers on Tehran’s nuclear program.

French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner (L) welcomes his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki as he arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris to meet with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, June 3, 2009. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Sarkozy agreed to a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki Wednesday at which French officials said Mottaki would deliver a message from the “highest Iranian authorities” on the highly disputed nuclear program.

But before Mottaki had left the Elysee Palace, Sarkozy’s office issued a statement strongly suggesting no breakthrough was achieved on elusive talks between Iran and the powers -- France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Russia and China.

“Today the president met the Iranian foreign minister ... to discuss the risks to peace caused by Iran’s initiatives in the nuclear field,” Sarkozy’s office said in its statement.

The rare encounter between a senior Iranian politician and the leader of a major power took place nine days before Iran’s presidential election, in which incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces a challenge from moderates seeking a thaw with the West.

The six powers have offered Iran a package of economic and other incentives in exchange for which they want Iran to stop enriching uranium, a process that can produce fuel for power plants or, potentially, a nuclear weapon.

They have invited Iran to talks and asked that it suspend its uranium enrichment work while initial negotiations take place, but Iran has so far rejected the advances.

“He (Sarkozy) underlined the importance and seriousness of the initiative by the ‘six’,” the French statement said, urging Iran to accept talks offered by the powers.

“Failing that, Iran will expose itself to constantly growing international pressure on all levels,” it added. The U.N. Security Council has passed several rounds of sanctions against Iran for failing to heed calls to suspend uranium enrichment.

The major powers suspect Iran is secretly developing the ability to produce a nuclear weapon, but Iran says it only wants to master atomic technology to generate electricity.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said he is prepared to hold talks with Iran to resolve the dispute, but Washington has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails.

Sarkozy is due to meet Obama Saturday in France and Iran is certain to be high on the agenda.

Sarkozy also denounced comments by Ahmadinejad Wednesday in which he called the Holocaust a “great deception.”

“From the outset, the president (Sarkozy) condemned the remarks made on this day by the Iranian president calling into question the reality of the Holocaust,” the statement said.

“He highlighted their unacceptable and deeply shocking nature,” it added.

Editing by Louise Ireland

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