President Nicolas Sarkozy called Iran’s nuclear ambition the world’s most dangerous problem Monday and raised the possibility that the country could be bombed if it persisted in building an atomic weapon.

The French leader used tough language towards Tehran in the first broad survey of his plans for extending Gallic influence in the world since the start of his hyperactive presidency in May.

Sarkozy also gave full backing to Bernard Kouchner, his Foreign Minister, who was forced to apologize Monday for calling for the replacement of Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister.

The biggest challenge to the world was the avoidance of conflict between Islam and the West, President Sarkozy told the annual gathering of French ambassadors. Iran was the crossroads of the Middle East’s troubles and its nuclear aims “are without doubt the most serious crisis that weighs today on the international scene”, he said.

• Monitor the nuclear showdown in FOXNews.com's Iran Center.

A nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable and the world must continue to tighten sanctions while offering incentives to Tehran to halt weapons development, he said.

“This initiative is the only one that can enable us to escape an alternative that I say is catastrophic: the Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran,” he said. He did not say who would carry out such an attack, which has been suggested by policy experts in Israel and the U.S.

Sarkozy, the most pro-American French leader for decades, condemned the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but also distanced himself from former French President Jacques Chirac’s doctrine of a “multipolar world”, a formula that Washington saw as code for a refusal of European partnership.

Where Chirac was careful not to criticize President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Sarkozy said: “Russia is imposing its return on the world scene by using its assets, notably oil and gas, with a certain brutality.”

On Europe, Sarkozy seemed to soften his outright hostility to eventual Turkish entry to the Union. He said that France would not block negotiations provided that a high-level “wise men’s group” was appointed to sketch the form that the Union should take.

He also demanded that other European nations should contribute more to the Union’s defense to ease the burden on France and Britain.

France’s new foreign policy was symbolized by Kouchner, a left-leaning humanitarian, Sarkozy said.

Kouchner apologized for “interfering in Iraqi affairs in such a direct way” when he appeared to criticize al-Maliki.

Kouchner was in trouble over remarks to Newsweek in which he said: “I have just talked to [Secretary of State] Condoleezza [Rice] by phone and told her: ‘Listen, al-Maliki has to be replaced’.”

However, the Minister stuck to his underlying point that many observers believed al-Maliki was unable to impose his leadership on the warring communities.

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