French President Jacques Chirac has condemned President Bush's 48-hour ultimatum for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave his country or face war.

In a short declaration, French President Jacques Chirac criticized the U.S. ultimatum as threatening the very idea of international relations.

Mr. Chirac said Iraq did not represent an immediate threat that justified going to war now. The French president said going outside the Security Council, and opting for force over international law, puts a heavy responsibility on the countries that will participate in an attack on Iraq. Mr. Chirac's denouncement echoed criticism also voiced Tuesday by Greek and German leaders.

France has been among the most vocal critics of President Bush's stance on Iraq, and Washington's push for military action if Baghdad did not disarm quickly.

During his speech, President Bush indirectly criticized France and other war skeptics, saying they shared Washington's assessment of the danger posed by Iraq, but not America's resolve to address it.

Mr. Chirac's anti-war stance has drawn widespread support at home. Analysts are comparing him to former French president and World War II hero, Charles de Gaulle. Mr. de Gaulle also defied the United States, most notably by withdrawing from NATO military operations.

Recent polls find Mr. Chirac basking in unprecedented popularity. The latest, published by France's leftist Liberation newspaper, gave the French president a 74 percent approval rating, on par with the highest rating of General de Gaulle.