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France Unlikely to Veto US Proposal on Iraq - 2003-09-22

French President Jacques Chirac says his country is unlikely to veto a U.S. resolution at the United Nations on Iraq's reconstruction, even if France opposes the proposal.

President Chirac made his remarks to The New York Times newspaper, and the French government published the full text of the interview on the presidential web site.

Just a few months ago, Paris threatened to veto a U.S. resolution to go to war in Iraq. Now, says Mr. Chirac, France would not oppose a new post-war resolution at the United Nations, unless it constituted, quote, a provocation.

But he said he did not believe that was the case with the current draft resolution, which would authorize countries to contribute money and troops to help rebuild Iraq.

Mr. Chirac said France instead might abstain from a possible Security Council vote on the initiative - or even vote in its favor, if the resolution meets French demands for a rapid transfer of sovereignty to Iraqi authorities and for the United Nations to play a central role.

Mr. Chirac's remarks followed a summit Saturday of French, German and British leaders in Berlin, which failed to produce a common position on managing post-war Iraq.

The three leaders said they agreed the United Nations should have greater authority in Iraq, and advocated the return of self-rule to the country as quickly as possible. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to sign on to the more stringent French and German requirements in both areas.

Russia has also called for a so-called real role for the United Nations and a clear timetable for establishing a new government.

In his remarks to The New York Times, Mr. Chirac also said it was unacceptable that the primarily Muslim Iraqis should be governed by a Christian, a reference to the country's American administrator, Paul Bremer. And he said France would participate in training Iraqi soldiers and police only if sovereignty has been transferred to the Iraqis.

But Mr. Chirac appeared to backtrack on previous stipulations by his foreign minister that the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq should take place within a month. Washington has called that demand unrealistic.

Instead, Mr. Chirac outlined a two-part plan that would symbolically transfer authority to the Iraqi Governing Council, but hand real power back to Iraqis over six to nine months.

The French president is scheduled to meet President Bush Tuesday in New York, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

France's criticism of the latest U.S. proposals on Iraq have sparked a flurry of press reports about a new rift dividing the two countries.

But Mr. Chirac rejected suggestions that Paris was trying to block American efforts in Baghdad. He said it was in the world's interests for stability and democracy to return to Iraq as quickly as possible.