WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States and its allies can "live with" a nuclear-armed Iran, but they should continue pressuring the Islamic Republic to keep it from developing an atomic bomb, the former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Monday.
Retired Gen. John Abizaid, in a file photo, said Monday the U.S. can "contain" Iran if necessary.
Gen. John Abizaid, who retired from the Army in March after three years leading U.S. Central Command, told a Washington think tank that Iran's leadership is pursing "reckless" policies and seeks to dominate the Middle East.
"We need to press the international community as hard as we possibly can, and the Iranians, to cease and desist on the development of a nuclear weapon, and we should not preclude any option that we may have to deal with it," he said.
But he added, "I believe the United States, with our great military power, can contain Iran."
"Let's face it -- we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we've lived with a nuclear China, and we're living with nuclear powers as well," Abizaid told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
European Union members Britain, France and Germany have led Western powers in negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program. But French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned Sunday that Europe must prepare for war if Iran continues to flout international demands, and President Bush has called the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran "unacceptable."
The U.N. Security Council slapped sanctions on Iran in December after Tehran refused international demands to freeze its production of enriched uranium. Iranian officials insist their nuclear program is aimed at producing civilian electric power, but the Bush administration accuses Tehran of working toward a nuclear weapon.
"Clearly the development of a bomb in Iranian hands will cause other nations in the region to move in a like direction, and in a very unstable region like that, that is not good news," Abizaid said.
But he said the United States "can deliver clear messages to the Iranians that makes it clear to them that while they may develop one or two nuclear weapons, they'll never be able to compete with us in our true military might and power."
Iran's foreign ministry criticized France on Monday for a blunt warning over the weekend that Europe must prepare for war if Tehran continues to ignore international demands to stop producing nuclear fuel.
"We hope that such statements are superficial and do not reflect France's realistic and strategic points of view," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said Monday, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a televised interview Sunday that European nations should consider sanctions outside the U.N. framework if Iran continues to ignore a Security Council call to halt its production of enriched uranium, and he added, "We must prepare ourselves for the worst."
Asked what "the worst" meant, Kouchner, co-founder of the the Nobel Prize-winning relief agency Doctors Without Borders, replied, "That is war, sir."
Kouchner quickly added that he does not believe war to be imminent, but that further sanctions are. He said major French companies, including those in the energy sector, are being told to stop any further investments in Iran.
Hosseini also said that the use of "convulsive words" ran counter to "the historical, cultural and civilizational dignity and position of France," according to IRNA.
"At a time when the issue of Iran's peaceful nuclear activities was removed from the agenda of the EU ministerial session recently, Kouchner's claims are not only in contradiction with EU's macro policies on the Islamic Republic of Iran but are also aimed at questioning credibility and competency of the International Atomic Energy Agency," Hosseini said.
The IAEA, the United Nations's nuclear watchdog agency, said it has been able to verify that Iran's declared nuclear material has not been diverted from peaceful use. While the IAEA has been unable to verify some "important aspects" regarding the nature and scope of Iran's nuclear work, the agency and Iranian officials agreed on a plan to resolve all outstanding issues, Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said Monday. E-mail to a friend
CNN's Jim Bittermann in Paris contributed to this report.