PARIS Democrat Barack Obama said Friday that Iran should promptly accept an international call to freeze its uranium enrichment program, which some nations see as a potential step toward obtaining nuclear weapons, and not wait for the next U.S. president.
The presidential candidate met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, where they discussed Iran, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, climate change and other issues.
Speaking later at a news conference, Obama said Iran should accept the proposals made by Sarkozy and other Western leaders. He urged Iran's leaders not to wait for the next U.S. president to push them "because the pressure, I think, is only going to build."
The United States and other Western nations accuse Iran of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and demand that it freeze its uranium enrichment program. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Obama said that he and Sarkozy agreed that Iran poses "an extraordinarily grave situation." He said the world must send "a clear message to Iran to end its illicit nuclear program."
Obama said: "My expectation is that we're going to present a clear choice to Iran: change your behavior and you will be fully integrated into the international community with all the benefits that go with that. Continue your illicit nuclear program and the international community as a whole will ratchet up pressure with stronger and increased sanctions. And we should have no illusion that progress will come easily."
Obama is in the midst of a weeklong tour of the Middle East and Europe as the first-term U.S. senator seeks to burnish his international credentials for the general election campaign against Republican rival Sen. John McCain. The trip began with a campaign-season tour of the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and ends with meetings with old allies France and Britain.
Obama told reporters that "Afghanistan is a war we have to win." The Taliban and terrorist groups it supports, he said, pose an unacceptable threat to the U.S., France and other nations.
"We've got to finish the job," said Obama, who often has said the Iraq war was an unwise move that distracted the United States from efforts to find Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders and to root out the Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
Sarkozy said he agreed that the Taliban must be defeated in Afghanistan, where French troops are part of a multinational force.
The joint news conference had many light moments. Sarkozy called his guest "my dear Barack Obama," and said the French have been following the U.S. presidential race "with passion."
"It's fascinating to watch what's happening there," he said.
The two men recalled their 2006 meeting in Washington, when Sarkozy was the French interior minister. Obama said the only other U.S. senator who Sarkozy visited then was McCain, now the presumed Republican nominee for president.
Obama urged U.S. political reporters to seek Sarkozy's insight because "he seems to have a good nose for how things play out."
Sarkozy wished Obama luck, but did not endorse him. He said it was up to Americans to choose their president.
Asked by a French reporter how he would differ from President Bush on foreign policy, Obama noted that he is a senator, not president.
"I am a candidate for president," he said. "But there's a wonderful tradition in the United States, that's not always observed, but I think is a good one. Which is that you don't spend time criticizing a sitting president when you're overseas."
"What I can say affirmatively is that an effective U.S. foreign policy will be based on our ability not only to project power but also to listen and to build consensus," Obama said.