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France Pushes E.U. to Oppose War Against Iraq

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with the Belgian foreign minister, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said he would try to unite the 15 E.U. foreign ministers at a meeting early next week.

“It is important that Europe speak on this issue with a single voice,” he said. “We are mobilized, we believe war can be avoided.”

De Villepin said the Jan. 27 report to the U.N. Security Council by arms inspectors seeking to ensure Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction should be seen as an interim report only.

“We see no justification today for an intervention, since the inspectors are able to do their work. We could not support unilateral action,” De Villepin said.

On Monday, de Villepin hinted that France might use its veto power if the U.S. brings a second Security Council resolution authorizing military action.

“In the event of second resolution … we will not associate ourselves with military intervention that is not supported by the international community,” he said, adding that use of force could “only be a last resort.”

The cautious stance pits France against Britain, the other E.U. country with a permanent Security Council seat. The British government announced Monday it was sending 26,000 troops to the Gulf in preparation for possible action against Iraq.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have said they already have the legal authority to use military action against Iraq for allegedly failing to give up its weapons of mass destruction.

At the White House, President Bush told reporters that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has “been given ample time to disarm.”

“This business about more time. How much time do we need to see clearly that he’s not disarming?” the president said.

Over the weekend, chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N.’s nuclear monitoring agency, met with Iraqi officials to work out procedural issues that had hampered inspections. Iraq agreed to encourage its scientists to speak in private with inspectors, among other concessions.

Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said Tuesday that Washington wants to “create the idea that Iraq isn’t cooperating,” in order to accuse it of material breach and to attack during favorable weather conditions.

“We hope to increase this cooperation [with inspectors] and overcome any obstacles, so we don’t give the U.S. administration any pretext,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile, the government of Turkey announced Tuesday that representatives of Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Jordan will meet in Istanbul Thursday in an effort to prevent war in the region. Diplomats told Reuters they hoped to sign a declaration asking the U.N. to find a peaceful resolution to the Iraq conflict.

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