- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

LE TOUQUET, France, Feb. 4 (UPI) — Britain and France agreed Tuesday to disagree over how to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with President Jacques Chirac arguing that U.N. weapons inspectors should have more time and British premier Tony Blair backing the U.S. stance against Baghdad.

Blair, Washington's closest ally in Europe, had arrived in the upmarket French coastal resort hoping to persuade Chirac to back a second U.N. resolution authorizing use of force against Baghdad. U.S. President George W. Bush gave his backing to such a move during a meeting with Blair last week.

However, France, which has a veto on the U.N. Security Council, delivered an unequivocal "non" to Blair's request.

"War is always the worst possible solution," Chirac told reporters after five hours of talks with Blair. "In that region above all others we do not need any more wars."

Blair and Chirac also clashed over how long to allow the U.N. inspectors to carry out their work in Iraq.

Asked whether the investigators needed weeks or months to finish their job, Blair said pointedly: "The inspectors will next report on Feb. 14 and we should take account of that very carefully."

Chirac, on the other hand, urged caution.

"We need to give the inspectors time to carry out the work entrusted to them," he said, noting that more Iraqi weapons had been destroyed by U.N. investigators than during the Gulf war.

As U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell prepares to present vital evidence on Iraq's weapons building program Wednesday, the French leader added: "There is still a lot that can and needs to be done through peaceful means to disarm Saddam Hussein."

Chirac and Blair openly admitted that Britain and France had a "different approach" toward Iraq, but said both countries shared the common aim of disarming Iraq through the U.N. Security Council.

Despite the public divide over Iraq, the commanders of Europe's two most powerful armed forces reached a ground-breaking defense deal that commits them to come to each other's aid in the event that either is attacked.

They also pledged to push for the creation of a European arms procurement agency and for a common European Union naval force pooling French, British, Italian and Spanish aircraft carriers.

Speaking in French, Blair concluded a 40-minute press briefing declaring: "There is a lot more which unites us than divides us." However, the strained body language the two leaders displayed suggested that whatever entente was reached wasn't quite so cordiale.

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