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Britain’s Blair, France’s Chirac Discuss Iraq Conflict

Blair, considered President Bush’s closest ally on the Iraq issue, failed to convince Chirac that military action is the best way to ensure that Saddam Hussein does not possess weapons of mass destruction although the two did agree that further action on disarmament should be handled through the United Nations. France is one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with the power to veto future resolutions.

“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 told a joint press conference in the northern French town of Le Touquet after the meeting.

“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,” Chirac said.

When asked if U.N. weapons inspectors should have weeks or months to continue their work on the ground in Iraq, Chirac said that he couldn’t “put a timeframe on it” and that it was up to the inspectors to decide.

“There is still much to be done in the way of disarmament by peaceful means,” Chirac said, indicating that he still felt that war was the worst possible ending to the Iraq conundrum.

“We will only adopt a position when we believe that nothing further can be achieved there,” the French leader added.

Blair said while the two leaders continue to have differing views on the Iraq crisis that it was important to focus on the “common points: support for the notion of disarming Iraq and belief this is best pursued through the U.N.”

Blair also made reference to the importance of the expected report by chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei to the Security Council on Feb. 14.

“I think we should take account of it very carefully,” Blair said of the upcoming report.

Chirac’s failure to soften his position on war with Iraq comes as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell prepares to present the Security Council Wednesday with evidence intended to prove that Iraq has large weapons caches hidden from U.N. inspectors and has defied international calls to disarm.

Powell had planned meetings with foreign ministers and ambassadors from all 14 other Security Council nations Tuesday and Wednesday. The 14, plus Iraqi Ambassador to the U.N. Mohammed Aldouri, are scheduled to make statements to the council Wednesday on the Iraq issue.

In a Sunday Wall Street Journal op-ed, Powell said that “we will not shrink from war if that is the only way to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.”

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