French President Jacques Chirac has told his country's military that French troops may be involved in combat with Iraq. But he also has made clear that France would go to war only with the backing of the United Nations.

In a New Year's message to the French military, Mr. Chirac said France must pay close attention to Iraqi compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, requiring cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors. And Mr. Chirac warned his armed forces that new theaters of combat could open up. He said France must be ready for any eventuality.

Mr. Chirac's statement is viewed by analysts as part of a campaign to prepare the French public for the possibility of military action. He also said that he wants the National Assembly to hold another debate on the question of Iraq.

But the French President told a meeting of ambassadors to Paris that France still considered war a last resort, and that the U.N. Security Council would have to make the explicit decision to go to war, based on the U-N weapons inspectors' experiences with Iraq.

France has never ruled out the possibility that it would be part of a military coalition with the United States and Britain under certain circumstances. In recent days unnamed government officials have been quoted in news reports as saying France is ready to support U.S. military action.