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US:  French Veto Threat 'Disturbing' - 2003-03-12


The Bush administration Wednesday lashed out at France for its unequivocal threat to veto any new U.N. Security Council resolution that would authorize the use of force against Iraq. The State Department said the veto, seemingly guaranteed by French President Jacques Chirac, makes the peaceful disarmament of Iraq less likely.

Administration officials have made no attempt to conceal their unhappiness about what amounts to an active French diplomatic campaign against the U.S.-British-Spanish draft resolution authorizing force.

But they had largely avoided public criticism until French President Jacques Chirac, in a French television interview late Monday, said his government would veto a new resolution, whatever the circumstances.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the Chirac comment "disturbing." He said that to threaten a veto, no matter what, sends "precisely the wrong signal" to Baghdad, and to those who still hold out hope that Iraq can be pressured to disarm peacefully, through diplomacy and the U.S.-led military buildup in the region.

"We all know that Iraq responds, only takes steps toward disarmament under pressure," he said. "That pressure is being maintained by the presence of American, British, Australian and other forces in the region. But to tell Iraq that no matter what, they're not going to be subject to another security council resolution really sends the wrong signal to Baghdad, and we think makes it less likely that we can get Iraq to disarm peacefully."

Mr. Boucher was also critical of Germany, an elected security council member, for its unconditional opposition to the use of force, though noting that that was an election campaign position of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that preceded the Iraq deliberations at the United Nations.

Despite what is seen here as the certainty of a French veto, President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell continued telephone diplomacy on the draft resolution, hoping that modifications being proposed by co-sponsor Britain will at least generate a security council majority for vote U.S. say they still expect this week.

Mr. Boucher said the Bush administration supported the British idea of putting specific disarmament conditions to Saddam Hussein, though he said it was unclear whether the terms would be included in the draft resolution itself or submitted as a side document.

He also reiterated that the United States could accept some easing of the March 17 disarmament deadline in the current draft, but that a delay of 30 or 45 days being mooted as a compromise by some U.N. diplomats is unacceptable to the United States.