UNITED NATIONS -- As world leaders converged on the United Nations yesterday, France's President Jacques Chirac dealt a significant blow to the Bush administration's effort to slow Iran's nuclear development, saying his government would join Russia and China in resisting the U.S. push for sanctions against Tehran.
"I am never in favor of sanctions," Chirac told Europe 1 radio in an interview on the eve of the General Assembly's annual debate. "I have never observed that sanctions were very effective."
Chirac proposed a compromise in which the Security Council would suspend the threat of sanctions while Iran, in turn, would suspend enrichment of uranium while the two sides talk.
As a last resort, after diplomacy has been exhausted, France might consider penalties, he said, but only "moderate and adapted" sanctions.
The divisions over sanctions seem likely not only to complicate policy toward Iran, but also to affect the administration's efforts to win international help on a range of other issues, diplomats and analysts say.
President Bush plans to make Iran a centerpiece of his address to the General Assembly today, explaining why he considers Tehran's regime to be a grave threat and insisting that sanctions be imposed if talks fail.
He will also talk about the administration's policies in Iraq and its support for a peacekeeping mission in the Darfur region of Sudan even in the face of opposition from the Sudanese government.
But on each issue, Washington finds itself on the opposite side from several Security Council members, including Russia and China, which both have veto power in the council.
Those two, backed by other council members such as Qatar, insist that the United Nations must not go against a national government's wishes, even when the international community does not agree with its actions.
France supports the United States on most of those issues, so when it joins the opposition as on Iran, it lends the other side considerable weight, say analysts.
"As preceding the Iraq war, Chirac's public comments are unfortunate because France is a very powerful player," said Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"It could encourage the Iranians and countries that are anti-American to believe that the United States is isolated. And if President Bush believes that there is no cooperation from the Security Council, it may encourage him to believe the only option is to strike Iran."
White House officials said yesterday that their position on Iran had not changed, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice scheduled to talk with U.S. allies in New York this week about a possible resolution calling for sanctions.
Bush is scheduled to meet today with Chirac, and Rice plans to dine tonight with representatives of the other countries negotiating with Iran: Britain, China, Russia, France, Germany and as of yesterday, Italy.
All have agreed that Iran must stop enriching uranium - a process that can be used to make energy or a nuclear weapon - to create confidence before they will resume talks on helping Iran with a nuclear energy program.
European diplomats say that they want the United States to sit at the same table with Iran before they consider that talks have failed.
Bush has ruled out dialogue with Iranian officials unless they halt their nuclear program, and there will be no U.S. contact with the Iranian delegation this week, officials said.
European diplomats are scrambling to arrange a face-saving compromise that could allow Iran to suspend uranium enrichment after talks resume. U.S. officials stopped short of ruling out that option yesterday.
In his speech, which will focus on Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, White House advisers say Bush will note that while military and law enforcement actions are needed to curb terrorism, the ultimate weapons are freedom and opportunity.
He'll seek to quell skepticism about U.S. motives in the Middle East by working to avoid the impression that he wants to see a U.S.-style democracy imposed on any nation.
"I think the president sees this ... as a struggle between the forces of extremism and the forces of moderation in the Middle East," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said. "And it's really a crucial time."
The president also is expected to firmly denounce Iran and Syria, two nations that Bush says are working to thwart freedom in the region. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also planned to be at the United Nations, but Bush had no intention of talking with him.
Bush arrived in New York yesterday to attend the 61st session of the world body with policy problems at home and abroad that have narrowed his room to maneuver on the international stage.
The U.S.-led war in Iraq is in its fourth year with no end to bloody sectarian violence in sight. International support is dwindling for imposing sanctions against Iran for defying U.N. demands that it halt uranium enrichment. The repressive Taliban regime toppled in Afghanistan is showing new signs of resilience. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues and Lebanon's government has, so far, proved too weak to rein in the Islamic militant group Hezbollah.
Maggie Farley writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.