PARIS, France (CNN) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Thursday that he will seek tougher U.N. sanctions on Iran for continuing to produce nuclear fuel, but backed away from his foreign minister's warning that Europe should prepare for war.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Sunday that European nations "must prepare ourselves for the worst."
Speaking in a joint interview with French television networks TF1 and France 2, Sarkozy said it is clear that Iran "is trying to equip itself with a nuclear bomb." But he said diplomatic pressure has spurred other countries to give up nuclear weapons programs before.
"How can we convince them to renounce this project, like the international community convinced Libya and North Korea? By discussion, dialogue and sanctions," he said.
Sarkozy said he will lobby for tougher sanctions on Iran when he attends the U.N. General Assembly session in New York next week.
France and fellow European Union members Britain and Germany have led Western powers in negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program, which Iranian officials insist is aimed at producing civilian electric power. The United States accuses Iran of working toward a nuclear weapon.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday it has verified that Iran's declared nuclear material has not been diverted from peaceful uses, though inspectors have been unable to reach conclusions about some "important aspects" of Iran's nuclear work.
But the U.N. Security Council has demanded that Tehran halt its production of enriched uranium, which can be used to fuel nuclear power plants or, in much higher concentrations, to produce a nuclear explosion. Iran has so far refused that demand, arguing that it has the right to produce nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Sunday that European nations "must prepare ourselves for the worst" if sanctions fail to stop Iran's nuclear development. Asked what that meant, Kouchner -- co-founder of the the Nobel Prize-winning relief agency Doctors Without Borders -- replied, "That is war, sir."
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini condemned Kouchner's comment, saying the "convulsive words" ran counter to "the historical, cultural and civilizational dignity and position of France."
And Sarkozy said, "I wouldn't have used the word war."
"It's an extremely difficult situation, but France doesn't want war," he said.
In an interview taped for CNN's Sunday program, "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," Kouchner said his remarks were taken out of context.
"'The worst is war,' I said, not to favor war, but to fight against war."
He said the entire Middle East is "absolutely explosive" right now, and "We have to find a very narrow way in between peace and a disaster."
"My president said, 'We must find another alternative to either having an Iranian bomb or bombing Iran.' This is the same thing," Kouchner said. E-mail to a friend