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Blair, Chirac Play Down Differences Over Iraq - 2003-02-04

At a meeting in France, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac failed to bridge their differences over how to ensure that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction. The leaders emphasized their meeting was particularly cordial and they tried to downplay their disagreements.

There were smiles and nice words, but Mr. Blair did not convince Mr. Chirac to change his position on Iraq. France is opposed to a war, especially if it is launched by the United States and Britain without the backing of the United Nations.

But Mr. Blair said France and Britain do not disagree totally. "Of course there are the differences that are familiar to people. But I think it is important to emphasize again the two common points that the president alluded to. Support for the notion of disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. And the belief that this is best pursued through the United Nations," Mr. Blair said.

President Chirac said the United Nations authorized inspections, and they must be given time to work.

Mr. Chirac said past inspections were successful, and the current inspectors know best what needs to be done, and should be given the time to do it.

Mr. Chirac would not say whether France might use its veto to kill a second Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. He said only that France would do what is necessary, taking all the circumstances into account.

Both men suggested that final decisions on Iraq could be influenced by Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation Wednesday to the Security Council, and a second report from the weapons inspectors on February 14.