UNITED NATIONS – French President Jacques Chirac said Tuesday that he does not want to set a new deadline for Iran to suspend nuclear activities feared to be a prelude to developing a nuclear weapons program, despite Tehran's defiance of U.N. Security Council demands.
Speaking at the United Nations, Chirac also appeared to soften an earlier proposal to drop talk of sanctions against Iran over its uranium enrichment, an issue high on the agenda at this year's U.N. General Assembly.
"We are committed to negotiations and therefore to dialogue. So we're not going to start by setting deadlines that are a few hours long," Chirac told reporters. "This is a process that is under way and I hope it will run its course."
This summer, world powers signed on to the principle that Iran would face at least mild initial sanctions if it blew an Aug. 31 deadline. With the deadline elapsed and Iran offering no concessions, the nations have been holding talks on what the consequences should be.
Iran insists its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes only.
While the United States has consistently pushed to punish Iran for defying Security Council demands that it freeze its nuclear activities, Chirac spoke out Monday against sanctions. His opposition, driven in part by his country's economic interests in the region, is also part of a larger bid to carve out a lasting legacy on world affairs.
The U.N. appearance is likely Chirac's last such performance. He has been secretive about his career plans, but most assume he will step down next year after 12 years in power.
On Monday, Chirac shook up diplomatic circles with a compromise proposal to kickstart talks between Iran and the international community by suspending the threat of U.N. sanctions if Tehran suspends uranium enrichment at the same time.
Such a proposal is unlikely to win the support of Washington.
On Tuesday, U.S. President George W. Bush, after sideline talks with Chirac at the United Nations, pressed Iran again to immediately begin negotiations, warning that any delay on the part of Tehran would bring consequences — including sanctions.
Chirac, after the talks with Bush, insisted that his compromise proposal was just a reiteration of France's position. He said he and Bush see "eye-to-eye" on Iran and insisted U.S.-French relations were close and friendly.
But then, in his speech to the General Assembly, he avoided mention of sanctions, saying only: "Our goal is not to call regimes into question."
"Dialogue must prevail," Chirac said. "The international community must stand firm and united."
Chirac also urged the Sudanese government to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force for the war-torn region of Darfur, and warned of a pending a "humanitarian catastrophe" there. Sudan has refused to allow a U.N. force take over from a largely ineffective and understaffed African Union force patrolling Darfur whose mandate expires at the end of this month.
Later Tuesday, Chirac was to welcome new partners in a plan for an airline tax he has championed to help fight AIDS and other disease in the developing world, called UNITAID.
He also proposed Tuesday the creation of a new U.N. environmental agency to halt the "collective suicide" humans are committing by abusing the planet's resources.