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Chirac sticks to his guns on Iraq

Blair, left, watches as Chirac makes his point at news conference after the summit.
Blair, left, watches as Chirac makes his point at news conference after the summit.

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Chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei will be heading back to Iraq for a new round of talks. CNN's Nic Robertson reports (February 2)
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President Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair answer questions about Iraq during a White House news conference (January 31)
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LE TOUQUET, France -- UK Prime Minister Tony Blair appears to have failed in his latest bid to persuade France to change its position on the use of force in Iraq.

Despite British lobbying French President Jacques Chirac said on Tuesday he remained steadfastly opposed to war before U.N. weapons inspectors have completed their work.

When asked how much time -- weeks or months -- inspectors should have, Chirac told a news conference: "I can't put a timeframe on it. It's up to them to decide.

"There is still much to be done in the way of disarmament by peaceful means," Chirac said.

Blair came to the Anglo-French summit at Le Touquet, in northern France, with the primary goal of persuading Chirac to back down from his anti-war stance and support a second U.N. Security Council resolution authorising military force against Baghdad.

CNN's Robin Oakley said that British officials were not disappointed at the outcome but they would have liked a little more overt support from the French president. (Analysis)

Nevertheless the two leaders were determined to emphasise the positive and where they had agreed, Oakley said.

The French president said that France and Britain were "absolutely" at one that Iraq had to be disarmed, but that the right place to do this was through the U.N. Security Council.

"As far as Iraq is concerned, we have different approaches but first and foremost we have two convictions which are fundamental and are shared," Chirac said.

"The first is that we have to disarm Iraq, and the second conviction that we share is that this has to be undertaken within the Security Council of the United Nations. Regarding that, we are entirely in agreement," he said.

Chirac said the talks had been "positive and warm" -- in contrast to reports after the summit was postponed by Chirac in December over a spat on EU farm policy in which he called Blair "very rude."

The summit came after Blair won tentative support from U.S. President George W. Bush at talks last week to go for a second U.N. resolution getting wide international backing before taking any military action.

CNN's Oakley says France has left open is whether Chirac will use France's veto in the U.N. Security Council, where it has key influence as one of five permanent members.

Officials in London and Paris had played down the chances of a major shift in the French position at the summit, which comes a day before U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell unveils what Washington says will be proof Iraq is hiding banned arms.

"France is waiting to see what Colin Powell says tomorrow and what (weapons inspector Hans) Blix says on the 14th," Chirac said

Blair, Chirac
Relations between the leaders of Britain and France have been strained in recent months.

Oakley says that Blair had however taken heart from the fact that France has sent an aircraft carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean on Tuesday and that Chirac had said to French troops in a New Year message that they should be ready for anything this year.

Last week, eight European leaders, including Blair, wrote a statement of support for Bush that appeared in newspapers around the world, indirectly reprimanding France and Germany for mounting pressure against U.S. preparations for war. Germany has said flatly it would not participate in any military operation against Iraq.

Another thorny issue at Le Touquet was Chirac's move to invite Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to a French-African summit this month, a trip Britain insists flouts EU sanctions imposed over alleged election rigging.

The two leaders issued a statement asking Zimbabwe to do more to respect democracy.

The event had been carefully choreographed to produce accords on defence, asylum and education with a number of ministers from both countries spreading the political load.


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