Chirac, in an interview to Europe-1 radio on Monday, said that dialogue was feasible if conditions were right.

 

"I don't believe in a solution without dialogue," Chirac said. He asked that the international community suspend the threat of UN sanctions for a suspension in Iran’s enrichment activity while the two sides talk.

 

There are suspicions that Tehran is pursuing a secret weapons programme. Iran maintains that its nuclear programme is for civilian use.

 

Chirac suggested that an agenda for talks be first set by both sides, Iran and the six nations currently involved in the issue - France, Germany, Britain, Russia, China and the United States.

 

"I am not pessimistic," he said. "I think that Iran is a great nation, an old culture, an old civilization, and that we can find solutions through dialogue."

 

"We must, on the one hand, together, Iran and the six countries, meet and set an agenda, then start negotiations. Then, during these negotiations, I suggest that the six renounce referring (Iran to) the UN Security Council and that Iran renounce uranium enrichment during negotiations,"Chirac said.

 

However, Chirac said he would not meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president,  in New York, and said he "deplores" the Iranian leader's anti-Israeli remarks.

 

Ahmadinejad has dismissed the Holocaust as a myth and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

 

"I have very clearly stated that ... the conditions for a personal dialogue have not been fulfilled," Chirac said.

 

A flexible Iran?

 

Larijani suggested that Iran could
be flxible on  its nuclear position

The UN Security Council has passed a resolution mandating possible economic and diplomatic sanctions to pressure Iran. Negotiations have stalled of late, but Tehran has recently given signs that it could be more flexible.

 

Ali Larijani, Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator, said during last week’s talks with Javier Solana, European Union foreign policy chief, that Tehran was ready to consider temporarily complying with the Security Council demand that it freeze its uranium enrichment.

 

One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Larijani floated the possibility of Iran stopping its enrichment activities "voluntarily, for one or two months, if presented ... in such a way that it does it without pressure."

 

Chirac was apparently taking up that potential concession, and he proposed going further with the international community abandoning the threat of sanctions.

 

The United States and Britain endorse a quick move toward sanctions if Iran does cease its enrichment programme.