- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

PARIS, Feb. 26 (UPI) — French lawmakers from across the political spectrum threw their weight behind President Jacques Chirac's efforts to resolve the Iraqi crisis peacefully, during a no-surprises parliamentary debate Wednesday.

Unlike a similar scenario before the 1991 Gulf War, the twin debates at the French Senate and National Assembly did not end in a vote supporting a war against Baghdad.

Such a vote had been demanded by several prominent leftist and conservative lawmakers. Some, including Greens and Socialist Party lawmakers, wanted a vote supporting a French veto of any U.N. war resolution.

In opening remarks to the National Assembly, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin cast doubts on the value of military action.

"We don't think the path of force will be shorter or more certain," he said.

"Whether it concerns terrorism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or organized crime, the struggle against these new scourges appears imposed on collective and international efforts," Raffarin added.

He also argued it was too early to consider a second U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force, a position echoed by Chirac Tuesday following a luncheon meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

Chirac's position is diametrically opposed to that of Aznar, whose country endorsed a second U.N. resolution this week.

Conflict over Washington's push for a war on Iraq has divided the European Union.

Britain, Spain, Italy and many Eastern European candidates favor military action. France and Germany, the traditional engines of Europe, so far remain staunchly opposed to war.

But French arguments that U.N inspections were making progress suffered a setback Tuesday when CBS television aired an interview with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein who said missiles deemed illegal were with international limits.

A Franco-German proposal to give weapons inspectors at least four more months was also rejected by Britain and the United States this week.

Nonetheless, popular opposition to military action remains high in France and across Europe, boosting Chirac's position. Anti-war sentiments were similar more than a decade ago when Socialist President Francois Mitterrand considered similar allied action against Baghdad, under former U.S. President George H.W. Bush.

France ultimately sent 5,000 troops to Saudi Arabia, after Iraq targeted the French embassy in Kuwait. French forces played an important role in the 1991 Gulf War — though Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement resigned in protest.

Popular opinion shifted sharply shortly after the war began, with the majority of French quickly backing military action.

Today, many here view the 1991 decision to go to war a much clearer choice given the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In recent interviews, the French population suggested Washington's justification for another war appears far less compelling.


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