France advocates alternative to war
By ALAN FREEMAN
"We haven't gone to the end, far from it," Mr. Chirac told journalists at Élysée Palace. "France believes that between the existing inspections system and war, there remain many methods of disarming Iraq."
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, on a state visit to India, was even more pointed in his comments. Responding to U.S. President George W. Bush's statement that "the game is over" for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Mr. Raffarin said Friday, "It's not a game and it's not over."
As one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — along with Britain, the United States, Russia and China — France believes its position on the Iraq conflict is becoming pivotal and Mr. Chirac, with a strong electoral mandate and solid support from French public opinion, is not hesitating to make his voice heard.
From the start, Mr. Chirac has been saying that war remains a last choice and the inspectors must be given all the time they need to get their job done.
An aide to Mr. Chirac was quoted in the influential daily Le Monde saying that if a resolution authorizing military action were put to the Security Council today, France would not be afraid of using its veto.
"If we don't agree, well then, we won't agree," the aide said.
But unlike German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who has ruled out German backing for military action, even with a UN mandate, Mr. Chirac has never ruled out force if the inspections fail.
In fact, France earlier this week ordered its sole aircraft carrier — the Charles de Gaulle — to sail for exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, but the implication was clear.
Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie said in a radio interview Friday that France was supporting inspections and not preparing for war, but she added, "we are capable of responding with our air force, our sea-based air force and our land forces if we get an order from the President."
"It's proof that France hasn't eliminated the possibility of war," said Jacques Beltran, a research associate at the Paris-based Institut Français des Relations Internationales. But he said that the French public is far from convinced that a war against Iraq will solve anything.
"People fear that this war will aggravate our security rather than help it," he said in an interview Friday.
Mr. Chirac has been active on the diplomatic front, speaking Friday to Mr. Bush by telephone.
According to Mr. Chirac's spokeswoman, he stressed that France and the United States were pursuing a "common objective: to disarm Iraq." But "he reaffirmed his conviction that there is an alternative to war to achieve this."
Mr. Chirac also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as to the leaders of Chile and Cameroon.
Mr. Chirac will meet Mr. Putin next week during an official visit by the Russian leader to France and will likely underscore his opposition to military action in Iraq.
Russia's Foreign Minister said Friday that a resolution on military action is not yet warranted.
"Today, we see no basis for adopting a UN Security Council resolution that would open the way for the use of force against Iraq," Igor Ivanov said.
France has been doing more than just ratcheting up the rhetoric. It continues to refuse to authorize the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to begin work on war preparations for the defence of Turkey in the event of conflict involving Iraq, its neighbour to the east. France, Germany and Belgium have blocked agreement at NATO for the past three weeks and don't appear ready to lift their opposition at a special meeting in Brussels on Monday.
Among the French political class, opposition to U.S. foreign policy has become a convenient meeting point for left- and right-wing politicians who usually can't agree on anything.
"The real reason for war is oil," said Paul Quiles, a former Socialist defence minister. François Hollande, first secretary of the Socialist Party, said the U.S. administration was attempting to provide evidence against Iraq that simply does not exist.
On the right, the anti-American viewpoint is equally as strong.
"The real reasons for American intervention are not linked to
terrorism or to weapons of mass destruction," said Philippe de
Villiers, a National Assembly member representing the right-of-centre
Mouvement pour la France. "It is simply part of a process of
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