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French president Sarkozy sets conditions for a return to NATO's command structure

French President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted on the need for stronger sanctions to punish Iran for its disputed nuclear program, in an interview published by The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. He gave the interview before departing for New York for the U.N. General Assembly, held Tuesday.

France would consider rejoining NATO's military command if French officials take a major role in the command structure and the United States accepts progress on European defense, the nation's president was quoted Monday as saying.

French officials have suggested the country is weighing whether to return to NATO's integrated military structure.

France has been a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since it was founded in 1949.

But Gen. Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of NATO's integrated military structure in 1966, refusing to put his troops under NATO command or host NATO bases as he sought to reassert France's independence after the grueling post-World War II years. The decision has damaged trans-Atlantic ties for years.

Sarkozy, who has pushed for better ties with the United States, said "France can only resume its place (in the command structure) if room is made" for French officials.

He was also quoted as saying, "I would make progress on European defense a condition for moving into the integrated command, and I am asking our American friends to understand that."

Sarkozy has insisted that the European Union must be independent and able to defend itself, not withstanding its role in NATO.

Iran will be a crucial topic at the U.N. assembly, and Sarkozy is pushing for stronger sanctions. Tougher sanctions "eventually will produce results," he was quoted as saying.

The United States and other world powers suspect Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists it only wants nuclear technology to produce electricity. Two rounds of U.N. sanctions have failed to end the deadlock.

France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, shocked many Europeans by saying recently that the world should prepare for the possibility of war against Iran. Amid criticism, Kouchner later insisted that he merely wanted to underline the seriousness of the Iranian nuclear problem.

Sarkozy insisted that he did not personally use the word "war" in his discussions about Iran. And though Kouchner has left open the possibility that he could visit Iran if invited, Sarkozy said, "I don't think that the conditions for a trip to Tehran are present right now. We can talk things over in the halls of the United Nations."

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