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[casi] France threatens force against Iraq


Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 12:26 GMT
France threatens force against Iraq

By Barnaby Mason
BBC's diplomatic correspondent

France has made its strongest statement of support yet for military action
against Iraq.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said that if President Saddam
Hussein fails to comply with the Security Council resolution on inspection and
disarmament, force will inevitably be used against Baghdad.

During more than four weeks of argument with the United States about the
resolution, France consistently argued that it should not give automatic
authorisation for military action.

The French government never ruled out military action against Iraq, or even
taking part in it - provided it was authorised by the United Nations Security

In that, it took care to mark out a different position from German Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder, who angered Washington in his campaign for re-election by
saying Germany would not join such a campaign in any circumstances.

Hardline message

In an interview on France Inter radio, Mr de Villepin noted that the
resolution setting out the new inspection regime had been passed unanimously.

He said President Saddam Hussein now knew perfectly well what would happen
if he did not comply with the resolution.

The scenario was now clear: if he did not meet his obligations, force would
obviously be used.

Despite Mr de Villepin's comments, it is still presumably the French
Government's position that the Security Council should take the final decision on
military action.

Washington's view is that that isn't necessary, and indeed the resolution
doesn't say it is.

But the French and the Americans are now delivering the same hardline message
to Iraq - which may surprise some who saw them argue over the resolution line by
line for several weeks.

But the argument was conducted without recrimination, and both governments
decided they would in the end get roughly what they wanted.

For France, it was a reaffirmation of its international influence as a
permanent member of the Security Council, together with Washington's agreement to
act through the United Nations.

As for the United States, it got a resolution that gives it a virtually free
hand against Iraq, and strengthened legitimacy for any military action it may
eventually take.

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