U.S. Officials to Discuss French Tough Talk on Iran in Upcoming Meetings

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's recent tough talk on Iran likely will be a topic of discussion when he meets U.S. officials in Washington.

The United States is making a renewed push to tighten sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. Since taking power in May, Kouchner's boss, President Nicolas Sarkozy, has staked out a much tougher position on Iran than his predecessor, Jacques Chirac.

Kouchner warned last weekend that the world should be prepared for war should Iran obtain nuclear weapons. He later backtracked a bit, saying: "Everything must be done to avoid war."

France also has been pushing recently for EU sanctions against Iran that would target the credit, insurance and financial sectors.

As France has signaled it is moving closer to the U.S. on Iran, Kouchner is likely to discuss strategy in his meetings Thursday with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Friday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley.

Just ahead of his first official U.S. visit since his appointment in May, Kouchner said France has moved on from the 12-year term of Chirac, who was a prominent critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

France is "allied, yes. Aligned, no. We don't take our orders from Washington even if we have a policy other than one founded on permanent anti-Americanism," Kouchner said on France-Inter radio.

Strategy on dealing with the future status of Kosovo also is likely to come up in Kouchner's meetings. Internationally brokered talks over the status of Kosovo have been deadlocked because of Kosovo's demand for independence and Serbia's refusal to accept it. Kosovo formally is a province of Serbia but currently is operating under U.N. supervision.

The United States and some European countries have been pushing for a formal recognition of Kosovo's independence from Serbia, but other European countries have expressed unease about forcing partition over Serbian objections. Russia has tried to forestall an international agreement that would recognize independence.

Kouchner, who previously served as the United Nation's administrator in Kosovo, recently suggested that talks on the territory's future could be extended by six months beyond a December deadline already agreed to by the United States and Kosovo. The United States probably would oppose that.

Kouchner's talks with U.S. officials are also likely to touch on Iraq, Darfur and an planned U.S.-sponsored conference on the Middle East.