French President Jacques Chirac said France would veto, if necessary, any resolution authorizing war against Baghdad in the present circumstances. The French president has also ruled out French participation in military action against Iraq outside the United Nations framework.
Mr. Chirac outlined his position on Iraq during a 30-minute television interview Monday night, at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris. He agreed that Iraq was not cooperating enough with United Nations weapons inspectors, and that the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was a dangerous one.
Nonetheless, he said, weapons inspections seemed to be working at present - and had made strides in disarming Baghdad in the past. Until weapons inspectors said otherwise, Mr. Chirac said, France would lobby for a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis.
If necessary, the French president said, France would veto any new U.N. resolution authorizing military action under the current circumstances.
Earlier Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov also said Russia may vote no on a new resolution against Iraq. Both France and Russia, as permanent Security Council members, have veto power. Mr. Chirac said he believed a third permanent member, China, would likely follow suite.
But the French president expressed doubts that the United States and Britain currently had sufficient votes to pass a new resolution in any case. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin toured Angola, Cameroon and Guinea Monday to drum up opposition to a war resolution. All three African countries are non-permanent Security Council members, and considered swing votes.
If the U.S. declares war against Iraq without U.N. blessing, as President Bush has suggested, Mr. Chirac said France would not participate in the action. But the French president said Paris might open its air space to the United States and its allies, and that France might participate in any post-war reconstruction.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said a French veto at the Security Council could have a serious, if short-term, effect on bilateral relations. But Mr. Chirac downplayed concerns French opposition might further erode relations between Paris and Washington.
Mr. Chirac says France and the United States have been friends for a long time. He also says he doubted France's position would trigger U.S. trade sanctions against French products or lead to a sustained split within the European Union.
Earlier, Mr. Chirac urged heads of state to appear at the next U.N. Security Council meeting on Iraq, saying they should be present on any war or peace decision. But President Bush said Monday he would not participate. The French president said Monday he would not go to New York unless other leaders joined him.