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France Presses EU to Toughen Sanctions Against Iran

By Lisa Bryant, VOA, Paris

France is pushing fellow European countries to toughen sanctions against Iran this month, including slapping an embargo on Iranian oil exports. The move comes amid tighter U.S. sanctions against Tehran in connection with its suspected nuclear weapons program.

In a television interview Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said there is little doubt Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Mr. Juppe said France will be pushing the European Union to toughen sanctions against Iran on two fronts, freezing the assets of Iran's central bank and imposing an embargo on Iranian oil exports. Paris wants the EU to adopt the measures by January 30, when European foreign ministers and heads of state meet in Brussels.

The French push comes just days after the United States toughened its own sanctions against Tehran over its suspected nuclear weapons program. The United Nations has imposed four rounds of sanctions against Iran to curb its uranium enrichment activities. But the efforts have hit a wall as Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

On Sunday, Iran's nuclear agency announced it had produced its first nuclear fuel rod. Iranian officials also threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway for oil shipping, if the West imposes oil sanctions.

But Tehran is mixing threats with overtures, announcing it will contact the EU about reopening talks on its nuclear program, an offer that received a cool response on Tuesday.

EU spokesman Michael Mann told reporters in Brussels that Iran must first respond to an October letter from European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton before setting out demands for renewed contacts.

Some analysts believe an oil embargo could hurt Europe more than Iran. They predict the cost of imported oil would shoot up -- adding further hardship to debt-strapped countries like Greece, Spain and Italy.

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