In his first major foreign policy speech as president, Nicolas Sarkozy of France said Monday that Iran could be attacked militarily if it did not live up to its international obligations to curb its nuclear program.
Addressing France’s ambassadorial corps, Sarkozy stressed that such an outcome would be a disaster. He did not say France would ever participate in military action against Iran or even tacitly support such an approach.
But the mere fact that he raised the specter of the use of force is likely to be perceived both by Iran as a warning of the consequences if it continues its course of action, and by the Bush administration as acceptance of its line that no option, including the use of force, can be excluded.
Sarkozy praised the current diplomatic initiative by the world’s powers, a two-pronged approach that threatens tougher U.N.-mandated sanctions if Iran does not stop enriching uranium for possible use in a nuclear weapon, but holds out the possibility of incentives if Iran complies.
This approach, he said, “is the only one that can enable us to avoid being faced with an alternative that I call catastrophic: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran.”
Calling the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program “the most serious weighing on the international order today,” Sarkozy also reiterated his position that a nuclear-armed Iran was “unacceptable” for France.
Although Sarkozy’s aides said French policy had not changed, some foreign policy experts were stunned by his blunt, if brief, remarks. “This came out of the blue,” said Francois Heisbourg, special adviser to the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris and author of a coming book on Iran’s nuclear program. “To actually say that if diplomacy fails the choice will be to accept a nuclear Iran or bomb Iran, this is a diplomatic blockbuster.”
Sarkozy’s speech, an annual ritual outlining France’s foreign policy goals, came as a new poll indicated that he had extraordinarily high approval ratings more than three months into his presidency.
According to a TNS-Sofres telephone poll of 1,000 people published Monday in Le Figaro, 71 percent say they are satisfied with Sarkozy’s performance. A number of other polls put his approval rating higher than 60 percent.
But his debut before his ambassadors was marred by a diplomatic imbroglio involving his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who was forced to apologize to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq for calling for his resignation.
Al-Maliki had demanded the apology from Kouchner, who was quoted on Newsweek magazine’s Web site as saying that the Iraqi government was “not functioning” and that he told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by phone, “He’s got to be replaced.”
Sarkozy made no mention of the diplomatic gaffe. Instead, he went out of his way to repeatedly praise Kouchner, an outspoken humanitarian activist and former U.N. administrator of Kosovo who left the Socialist Party to join Sarkozy’s conservative government.