The world should brace for a possible war over the Iranian nuclear issue but seeking a solution through talks should take priority, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Sunday.
"We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war," he said in an interview broadcast on French television and radio.
"We must negotiate right to the end," with Iran, he said, but claimed that if Tehran possessed an atomic weapon, it would represent "a real danger for the whole world."
Calling the nuclear standoff "the greatest crisis" of present times, the minister said: "We will not accept that the bomb is manufactured," and hinted that military plans were on the way.
"We are trying to put in place plans which are the privilege of chiefs of staff and that is not for tomorrow," he said but stressed that although any attack on Iran was far from taking place, "It is normal for us to plan" for any eventuality.
In Washington, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates took a more muted approach on Sunday.
"I will tell you that I think the administration believes at this point that continuing to try and deal with the Iranian "threat" ... through diplomatic and economic means is by far the preferable approach," he said.
Kouchner meanwhile said France wanted the European Union to prepare sanctions against Iran, outside the ambit of the UN Security Council, to force Tehran to forsake its nuclear ambitions.
"We have decided that while negotiations are continuing ... to prepare eventual sanctions outside the ambit of UN sanctions. Our good friends, the Germans, suggested that," he said.
The foreign minister also said leading French companies such as Total and Gaz de France had been urged not to undertake new work or contracts in Iran.
Tehran vehemently denies Western allegations it is seeking an atomic weapon, saying its nuclear drive is aimed at providing electricity for a growing population whose fossil fuels will one day run out.
The five permanent Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany are due to meet to discuss a new draft UN resolution on sanctions against Iran on September 21 in Washington.
In the free-wheeling interview, Kouchner also touched upon the criteria for new members aspiring to join the European Union such as Turkey, saying French President Nicolas Sarkozy favoured the scrapping of a mandatory referendum on future adhesions.
"I do not fear revealing this secret. I think the president wants this as well," he said.
France has put the brakes on Turkey's membership talks but Sarkozy has said he would not block the discussions if a group of "wise men" was established by 2009 to debate the goals and ambitions of the EU over the next two decades.
Last Mod: 16 Eylül 2007, 23:44