- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

PARIS, March 18 (UPI) — French President Jacques Chirac on Tuesday condemned as "without justification" a 48-hour ultimatum delivered by Washington for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq or face war.

"Iraq does not represent today an immediate threat that justifies an immediate war," Chirac said in remarks to the media delivered from the Elysee presidential palace.

No justification exists for a unilateral declaration of war against Baghdad, Chirac added — either for the purposes of disarming Iraq or for a regime change.

"Regardless of the evolution of events, this ultimatum threatens the idea we have of international relations," the French president said. "It impacts on the future of a people, the future of a region, the stability of the world."

In an earlier communiqu Tuesday, Chirac warned U.S. President George W. Bush and his allies that going outside the U.N. Security Council and opting for force over international law, meant shouldering a heavy responsibility.

His comments echoed criticism and concern aired in Germany, Russia and China, along with the Vatican against Bush's ultimatum to Saddam delivered Monday in an address to the United States.

France has been among the most vocal critics of Washington's tough stance on Iraq and Washington's push for military action if Baghdad did not disarm quickly.

But a final push by France, Germany and Russia for a non-military resolution to the crisis went nowhere last weekend.

During an address to the nation Monday, Bush indirectly criticized France, saying the country shared Washington's assessment of the danger posed by Iraq but not the United States' resolve to meet it.

Chirac's anti-war stance has drawn widespread support at home. Analysts are

comparing him to former French President and World War II hero Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle also asserted French independence of U.S. policies, most notably by pulling out of NATO.

Under Chirac's presidency, the country rejoined the alliance in 1995.

Recent polls find Chirac basking in unprecedented popularity. The latest, published Tuesday by France's leftist Liberation newspaper, gave the French president a 74-percent approval rating — on par with de Gaulle's highest rating.

Still, some pundits believe that score may drop following a series of unpopular new measures at home and possible retaliation overseas for France's anti-war position regarding Iraq.

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