- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

PARIS Leading lawmakers from President Jacques Chirac's party have begun speaking out about the damage France's anti-war stance is having on relations with the United States and the future of the United Nations.
Herve de Charette, a former foreign minister and lawmaker with the ruling party, was the latest to add his voice to a string of warnings about the consequences of any French veto in the Security Council.
Mr. de Charette said he believes war on Iraq is inevitable and told LCI television that any veto of a U.S.-backed resolution seeking authorization for war "is a decision that has great ramifications, of great gravity."
He noted that France, one of five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, has not used one against the United States since the crisis over the Suez Canal in 1956.
The ruling party's president, Alain Juppe; its parliamentary head, Jacques Barrot; and Edouard Balladur, the head of parliament's foreign affairs commission, also have all said that a veto risks a breakdown in relations with the United States and some European countries.
France has "avoided committing a mistake, which some are pushing for, that would have left it isolated: wrongly brandishing its right of veto," Mr. Juppe said during a debate on the Iraq crisis in parliament Wednesday.
"A veto is unimaginable," Claude Goasguen, another ruling party lawmaker, told the daily Le Monde in yesterday's edition. "We are not going to break the United Nations and Europe just to save a tyrant," he said, referring to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"We have taken into account the concern about not uselessly breaking relations with the United States," Mr. Barrot told the same paper. "We are not going to get to the point of getting into an argument with Western democracies."
He said strong trans-Atlantic ties were crucial "to build peace tomorrow."
This week, the cover of Le Point, a leading newsmagazine, asks, "What's got into Chirac?" It said, "It's high time we weighed up the damage of an Atlantic rupture," adding that it would be "wiser to save the United Nations and NATO from ruin" rather than let Mr. Chirac enjoy any longer his "conviction that he's not a little mosquito biting the American elephant."
The comments do not indicate dwindling support for Mr. Chirac's drive to give weapons inspectors more time and muscle to disarm Baghdad peacefully, or the belief that everything should be tried before resorting to war.
But it does reflect mounting concern about the direction French foreign policy is taking and where it will lead, perhaps a sign the pendulum in France may now be slowly starting to swing toward the position of the United States.
The dilemma facing the president was summed up in the ardently pro-Chirac newspaper Le Figaro, which wrote in an editorial yesterday that Mr. Chirac had already added the "missing page in his history" by reinvigorating French pride and standing up to the United States.
An accompanying article described the conflicting pressures on France. "Renouncing its veto and fleeing into abstention would not only weaken positions defended by Jacques Chirac for the past six months, it would also make obsolete one of the essential levers of French foreign policy. But using it would spark a serious crisis with the United States and its allies."
The risks have been clearly spelled out by Howard Leach, the American ambassador to France, who said in Le Monde yesterday that "France's position could have long-term repercussions." The French also have seen how the United States froze out Germany after Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder first criticized U.S. policy on Iraq.
Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said yesterday that France has "no affection" for Saddam and that his country might participate in a U.S.-led military coalition, something the government has not ruled out.
"If Saddam Hussein does not respond to the calls of the inspectors, we do not exclude the use of force," Mr. Raffarin told the regional Paris-Normandie newspaper in an interview for publication today.
Though the remarks didn't signal a shift in official position, Mr. Raffarin's tone was noticeably tougher on the Iraqi leader. The prime minister said he believes the crisis can be resolved through diplomacy and that France still hopes to persuade the United States to hold off on its war plans.
"We have no affection for Saddam Hussein, but we are also mindful of the harm that can come to the Iraqi people" if a war starts, Mr. Raffarin said.
Opposition Socialist and Communist leaders stridently oppose war and have repeatedly urged the government to veto any resolution paving the way for military strikes.


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