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France Gives Chirac High Marks for Anti-War Stance - 2003-02-18

President Jacques Chirac may be facing criticism in Europe and the United States, but many French are giving their leader high marks for his anti-war stance on Iraq. A new survey shows the popularity rating of France's conservative president is soaring.

A poll published by France's Liberation newspaper indicates more than eight out of 10 French approve of President Chirac's calls for a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis. More than three-quarters believe the French president is courageous for resisting Washington's arguments against Saddam Hussein.

Monday, Mr. Chirac criticized several Eastern European leaders in Brussels for taking what he described as a "childish" and "dangerous" stance in supporting the Bush administration's position on Iraq. Leaders of several EU candidate countries were among eight in Europe to sign a pro-Washington letter in January.

The letter did not include French and German leaders, both of whom are critical of the U.S. position on Iraq.

Meanwhile, Spain's foreign minister, Anna Palacio, told French RTL radio that Madrid may sponsor a second U.N. resolution authorizing military force against Iraq. She said that Spain hoped Baghdad would cooperate sincerely and immediately with U.N. weapons inspectors.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has strongly backed Washington's stance on Iraq, even as polls show most Spaniards oppose military action against Iraq.

Mrs. Palacio also said Mr. Aznar may visit Mr. Chirac, presumably to shore up relations, after his talks with U.S. President George W. Bush this week in Washington.

Besides opposing the U.S. stance toward Iraq, France remains skeptical about the Bush administration's claims of ties between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. During an interview on French television Monday, the head of France's intelligence service said he did not believe any so-called "organic" relationship existed between the two. The intelligence head, Pierre Bousquet, also said al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden, scorned Mr. Hussein.