- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

PARIS, Jan. 15 (UPI) — French and German leaders meeting in Paris Tuesday night said they agreed completely on ways of handling the Iraqi crisis — reinforcing calls from both countries for a diplomatic solution.

"Our approach and our vision on the Iraqi problem is identical and of the same nature," French President Jacques Chirac told reporters, following dinner with his German counterpart, Gerhard Schroeder, at the Elysee Presidential Palace.

But Chirac pointedly did not answer a question directed to both leaders: How they would react if the United States declares war on Iraq? Schroeder has stood firm on his election campaign promise that Germany would not participate in any possible military action against Baghdad.

Chirac has kept his options open. Although Paris has stepped up calls for a peaceful solution to the Baghdad arms standoff, Chirac told French military leaders they must prepare for a possible war.

At the same time, France also continues to press for a second U.N. Security Council resolution on a possible war against Baghdad — a position contrary to Washington's.

Germany — which succeeds France as rotation Security Council president next month — now backs the French call.

Both leaders also ducked another question — a response to remarks earlier Tuesday by U.S. President George W. Bush that "time is running out" for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"We have a clear position on the Iraqi affair, and we have no other comment to make," Chirac said.

Both leaders have supported U.N. weapons chiefs, who have said that inspections now underway in Iraq for possible nuclear or biological programs should take several months more. And France has particularly called for more intelligence information and personnel to improve the weapons inspections process.

Moreover, a series of surveys shows many Europeans are against military strikes on Baghdad, even if the United Nations leads the campaign. And in recent remarks, former French leader Valery Giscard D'Estaing said European countries now sitting on the U.N. Security Council should be more outspoken in pushing a European position.

Separately, the two leaders announced compromise proposals to elect a future president of the European Council and European Union Commission. The two countries have profoundly different visions on the future of EU institutional reforms to accommodate 10 new members.

But Chirac said France and Germany — considered the "motors" of Europe — have agreed that a European Union president be elected by the European parliament, and an EU council president be elected by a qualified majority of council members. The proposal will be offered Wednesday to EU leaders and members of a convention looking at ways to overhaul the body.

"If we want to have, with the French-German motor, a real push for Europe of tomorrow, we must find simple solutions which each must accept to make a concession to the other," Chirac said.

Next week, the two countries stage an elaborate ceremony at Versailles, marking 40 years of diplomatic cooperation.

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