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Sarkozy seeks Syrian help in Iran nuclear standoff

RIA Novosti

04/09/2008 10:28 DAMASCUS, September 3 (RIA Novosti) - The French president has asked his Syrian counterpart to use his country's ties with Iran to ensure the Islamic Republic does not produce nuclear weapons, and urged Syria to seek direct peace talks with Israel.

Nicolas Sarkozy said after meeting with President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Wednesday: "I told the president that Syria can play a role in the Iranian issue. Iran must not obtain the atomic bomb, but it has the right to nuclear energy for peaceful use."

Assad said his country has long been against the presence of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and has in the past asked the UN Security Council impose a ban on weapons of mass destruction in the region, which it refused to do.

He said: "The Iranian issue can only be resolved through dialogue and peaceful means," and warned that any attempts to use military force to stop Iran's nuclear program would lead to a "catastrophe."

The U.S. and Israel, the Mideast's sole nuclear power, have refused to rule out the possibility of strikes against Iran to end its nuclear program. Russia has been the key backer of Iran's civil nuclear development, building the country's first nuclear power plant in Bushehr and supplying it with low-enriched uranium.

The French president, visiting Syria for the first time, stressed the importance of negotiations between Syria and Israel for peace in the region, and said Paris is ready to support face-to-face negotiations.

"It is very important that the time for Syria and Israel to talk directly comes soon, to create the peace that everyone needs," Sarkozy said.

Syria has faced isolation by Western powers in recent years over its backing of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah, and its ties with Iran.

The French and Syrian leaders will meet on Thursday with Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the Mideast peace process and the Iranian nuclear dispute.

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