Chirac urges no sanctions on Iran
French President Jacques Chirac has said referring Iran to the UN Security Council is not the best way to resolve a crisis over its nuclear programme.
"I don't believe in a solution without dialogue," Mr Chirac told Europe-1 radio, urging countries to remove the threat of sanctions against Iran.
The US is leading calls for sanctions to be imposed on Iran if it refuses to suspend uranium enrichment.
Mr Chirac's call comes as world leaders gather for the UN General Assembly.
Iran says its nuclear programme is solely for power generation, but the US and other countries have accused Tehran of using it to hide a nuclear weapons programme.
The US is pressing for sanctions against Iran, but some European countries are hesitant to do so, preferring to offer Iran incentives to halt enrichment.
The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says that after the relative success of French international diplomacy during the recent crisis in Lebanon, Mr Chirac appears keen to continue to offer the world French leadership on Iran as well, another country with which France has long historical ties.
Mr Chirac said that he believed that there was still potential for fruitful dialogue between Iran and the six nations currently involved in the Iran nuclear issue - the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.
"I am not pessimistic," he said. "I think that Iran is a great nation and that we can find solutions through dialogue."
Mr Chirac said he had never noticed that sanctions had been effective, although he said that he was not ruling out using them if necessary.
Instead he suggested that the way forward was for negotiations to begin without any preconditions and for each to side to make concessions once they are under way.
"We must, on the one hand, together, Iran and the six countries, meet and set an agenda for negotiations then start negotiations," Mr Chirac said. "Then, during these negotiations I suggest that the six renounce seizing the UN Security Council and Iran renounces uranium enrichment."
This is the first time that a European leader has made clear that Iran's suspension of uranium enrichment is not a precondition for opening talks, but could come during the negotiations, our correspondent says.
Iran has ruled out accepting any preconditions for talks and dismissed calls to suspend uranium enrichment, ignoring a 31 August UN Security Council deadline to do so.
Mr Chirac was speaking ahead of his departure for New York where he is joining other world leaders, including US President George W Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for the UN General Assembly.
Iran's nuclear ambitions are expected to be a key topic of discussion at the meeting, along with the situation in the Middle East, especially Iraq.
Mr Bush is due to address the 192-nation assembly on Tuesday, where he is expected to further outline his vision for fostering democracy in the Middle East and the role the international community should play in the region.
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