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France Will Honor Defense Agreements with Gulf States, says Official - 2003-03-16

France's defense minister says her government will stand by Gulf countries in the event of war, but reaffirmed France's opposition to any attack against Iraq, without United Nations authorization. The French official made the remarks in Qatar, hours before the leaders of the United States, Britain and Spain were to meet to discuss that latest developments in the Iraqi crisis.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France would honor its defense agreements with Gulf states in the case of war and, if necessary, help protect them from chemical or biological attacks.

The defense minister made the remark Sunday after meeting with Qatari ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. She indicated both sides shared similar views on the Iraqi crisis, but added that France does not judge the Qatari government's decisions.

Several thousand U.S. troops are in Qatar preparing for a possible war against Iraq. Qatar has also allowed the U.S. military to build a forward command center on a base near Doha to direct any military operations in the region.

The French defense minister reiterated France's opposition to any attack on Iraq at this time, saying France would not participate in any military intervention that was not sanctioned by the international community.

The official said, however, that if there is a war with Iraq, France would likely help with any reconstruction effort, saying peace cannot be made without the international community, and Paris would assume its responsibilities.

Qatar was the second stop on the French official's two-day trip to the Gulf region, which included the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The latter two countries have military agreements with the United States, but, unlike Qatar, they have refused to allow it to use their territory for a possible attack against Iraq.

U.S. officials say Iraq has failed to fully comply with a U.N. resolution demanding it destroy all its weapons of mass destruction. They have sent a quarter-million troops to the Gulf region to forcefully disarm the Baghdad government, if necessary. Mrs. Alliot-Marie said the work of United Nations weapons inspectors was making progress and should be allowed to run its course.

The French official's remarks came ahead of a summit meeting on Iraq of U.S. President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.