- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

PARIS, March 13 (UPI) — France Thursday rejected British proposals to extend a deadline for Iraq to disarm until March 21 or 24, stating the conditions didn't respond to the questions posed by the international community.

"It's not a question of offering Iraq a few more days to before resorting to force," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin declared in a statement, "but to resolutely advance in the direction of peaceful disarmament marked out by inspections which are a credible alternative to war."

He did not, however, specifically comment on a six-test proposal for Baghdad, also offered Wednesday by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

They range from stipulating Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to publicly declare on national television his government has been concealing weapons of mass destruction — but will now disarm — to allowing 30 Iraqi scientists to travel to Cyprus for interviews with U.N. weapons inspectors.

Nonetheless, de Villepin reiterated France's rejection of any "ultimatum" or deadline for U.N. inspectors to do their job, even as he called for "a full and entire cooperation by Iraqi authorities."

The foreign minister's statements fall in line with a more forceful rejection of military action made Tuesday by French President Jacques Chirac.

During a television interview, Chirac announced France would oppose any near-term U.N. resolution authorizing force, using its veto if necessary at the Security Council. He also said Paris would not participate in any war on Baghdad that is not sanctioned by the United Nations.

His position has drawn unusual, widespread support from the country's political parties.

Indeed, the only real dissent appears among Chirac's own conservative UMP party. Some leaders, including party head Alain Juppe, reportedly fret a veto may further erode already frayed ties with the Bush administration.

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