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Bush, envoy lobby French on Iraq

Grossman: French officials were tight-lipped about the result of the meetings
Grossman: French officials were tight-lipped about the result of the meetings

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PARIS, France -- U.S. President George W. Bush telephoned French President Jacques Chirac to urge support for a U.N. resolution threatening Iraq with military action.

In the call, made aboard Air Force One, Bush "reiterated a desire to work with the U.N. to have a firm and effective outcome," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

Bush was pleased with the call, Fleischer said, but didn't indicate whether Chirac agreed to support language favoured by the U.S. and Britain that would put Iraq on notice to comply with its U.N. commitments or face possible military action.

However, Chirac spokeswoman Catherine Colonna said the French leader told Bush he still preferred a two-step strategy: a first resolution on the return of arms inspectors, to be followed by a second resolution detailing consequences only if Baghdad blocks inspections.

"The president reiterated France's position to him (Bush) -- that disarming Iraq is necessary and must be done within a U.N. framework," Colonna said.

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"The objective is the rapid and unconditional return of U.N. inspectors to Iraq. A simple, firm resolution which shows the unity and determination of the international community could help on this front."

Bush's call to Chirac comes as the U.S. and Britain step up their campaign to convince France, Russia and China -- the three other members of the U.N. Security Council with veto power -- to support a single resolution that calls for military action if Iraq doesn't comply with unfettered inspections.

While Bush was speaking with Chirac, a senior U.S. diplomat was in Paris meeting with advisers to Chirac and officials from the foreign ministry.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman held talks first at the Quai d'Orsay foreign ministry before being whisked off for another sales effort at the Elysee Palace.

The meetings were tightly screened off from journalists. On Saturday, Grossman flies to Moscow. Like France, Russia is wary of giving the go-ahead for war.

The French were saying little about the talks with Grossman. "This is a meeting in the framework of our consultations about Iraq," Colonna said.

Grossman declined comment to waiting reporters as he arrived at the French foreign ministry for talks there.

Britain is also sending envoys to lobby reluctant members. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has been Bush's closest ally on the issue of Iraq.

British Foreign Office political director Peter Ricketts was in Paris on Friday and heads to Moscow on Saturday, a Foreign Office source said. His trip was being timed to coincide with Grossman's.

William Ehrman, deputy UK undersecretary of state for defence and international security, was due to fly to Beijing over the weekend, the source said.

Washington is expected to unveil the text of its draft resolution to fellow Security Council members soon.

London and Washington have agreed on the wording of a fresh ultimatum, demanding that Iraq allow U.N. inspectors unrestricted access in their search for sites involved in making or storing weapons of mass destruction.

The proposed text sets out what Iraq needs to do to comply -- and the consequences of failure, senior State Department officials told CNN. (Full story)

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he has spoken to the foreign ministers of France, Russia and China, and that while there are many points of agreement among the permanent members of the Security Council, there are issues that still need to be worked out.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on Friday that a dossier published by Britain this week lacked clear proof that Baghdad had chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

French officials announced on Thursday that Paris had won China's backing for Chirac's proposed two-resolution approach.

"We have to try everything before war," Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told French television late on Thursday.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has agreed to let U.N. weapons inspectors return to Iraq without conditions after an absence of nearly four years.

The United States, whose declared policy is to seek the Iraqi leader's removal, said Saddam could not be trusted.

In Washington, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy joined what appears to be a growing Democratic chorus questioning Bush's stance on Iraq. (Full story)

In Brussels, the European Union's external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, warned the United States that military force alone would not make Iraq safe.

And in Baghdad, three U.S. congressmen arrived to plead for unfettered access for U.N. arms inspectors and assess the humanitarian situation there after a decade of sanctions. (Full story)

"Our desire is that Mr. Hussein allow unfettered inspections, we do not want any question about that because we want this to be peacefully and diplomatically resolved," said Washington Democrat Jim McDermott, accompanied by Democratic colleagues David Bonior of Michigan and Mike Thompson of California.

Also in Iraq, U.S. and British jets bombed two surface-to-air missile sites south of Baghdad after Iraqi forces fired on Western aircraft, a Pentagon spokesman said on Friday.

The U.S. Defense Department said U.S. and British jets hit targets near Qalat Sikur, about 130 miles (200 km) southeast of Baghdad, about 11:45 p.m. Thursday (1945 GMT), and Tallil, about 170 miles (270 km) southeast of Baghdad, at 12:30 a.m. Friday (2030 GMT).

"On an almost daily basis our aircraft are fired at by the Iraqis. Every time we fly we get shot at," Lt. Col. Dave Lapan told Reuters. The aircraft patrol the northern and southern no-fly zones imposed on Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War.

Meanwhile, in a broadcast on Iraqi television, Saddam's son Uday said the U.S. quest to oust his father's government was designed to get hold of the country's vast oil reserves.

"Do not imagine that the Americans will let you alone, because you are sitting on the (world's) No. 1 oil reserve," Uday was quoted as saying on Thursday night by al-Shabab television, which he owns.

According to Iraqi figures, the country has a proven oil reserve of about 113 billion barrels -- second only to Saudi Arabia's -- and a probable reserve of 220 billion barrels.

-- CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.



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