- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

PARIS, Feb. 24 (UPI) — France continues to insist there is no need for a second Security Council resolution on Iraq, which may be introduced at the United Nations early this week.

French officials, however, kept the door open for a last-minute shift toward joining a U.S.-led war against Baghdad.

"France is opposed to any new resolution" French Foreign Minister Dominique de

Villepin said in an interview published Monday in Le Figaro newspaper.

But he continued to insist the time for inspections had not yet run out.

"France's conviction is that so long as the inspections work, we must continue to advance down this path," de Villepin said.

He noted U.N. weapons inspectors still had to interview Iraqi scientists, and reiterated his earlier call for reinforced inspections.

Remarks by de Villepin and other top French officials suggested Paris' position has not budged, even as the United States and Britain are pushing for a debate on a second U.N. resolution authorizing military force against Baghdad.

The French position has sparked ridicule and criticism by the Anglo-American media, and calls by U.S. lawmakers to slap sanctions on French food and beverages imported into the United States. But at home, French President Jacques Chirac is basking in soaring poll ratings for his anti-war stance, and a nomination announced last week for the Nobel Peace Prize.

During a visit to an agricultural fair in Paris this weekend, Chirac was asked if he had anything to say to the Americans.

"French ham is the best in the world," he replied, presumably responding to threats of U.S. trade sanctions.

Still, following long-standing diplomatic tradition, French officials continued to keep their options open.

During a Sunday night interview on France-Europe Express, French Defense Minister

Michele Alliot-Marie did not rule out joining a war against Baghdad should U.N. inspections fail.

French politicians, from the far left to the far right, are virtually united in their opposition to military conflict against Baghdad, as is public opinion.

Even Chirac's controversial advice last week for Eastern European countries to "shut up" in siding with the Bush administration, sparked very little criticism at home.

Among the few dissident voices is that France's popular former health minister, Bernard Kouchner, who told the Paris-based media last week that "Saddam must go." Still, Kouchner spared few kind words for the Bush administration, or for its drumbeat for war.

In an interview with the International Herald Tribune from his new posting at Harvard

University, he described U.S. President Bush as "the least credible spokesman for human rights around."

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