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France, Germany Unite Against Military Action in Iraq

German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac challenged the possibility of military action in Iraq, with Chirac calling it “the worst solution” to the standoff over weapons of mass destruction.

“War is not inevitable,” Chirac said before a joint parliamentary session in the Versailles Palace. “France and Germany, who are successively chairing the Security Council, are coordinating their positions closely to give peace every possible chance.”

Chirac said their countries’ Iraq policy was based on two fundamental principles.

“The first is that any decision belongs to the United Nations Security Council and to it alone, speaking after having heard the report of the arms inspectors, in conformity with the resolutions it has adopted,” he said. “For us, the second idea is that war is always an admission of failure and the worst of all solutions. Everything should be done to avoid it.”

Schroeder, who won re-election in September based, in part, on his opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq, echoed the French president’s comments.

“We agree completely to harmonize our positions as closely as possible to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis,” he said.

The United States has struggled to maintain international consensus in its approach to Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday he was not sure if France was ready for any solution to the situation.

“What they said is, we should let this process continue,” Powell said in an interview released Wednesday. “But it’s not clear to me how long they want to continue or whether they are serious about bringing it to a conclusion at some time.”

“Our position is that Saddam Hussein must be disarmed and he can either do it peacefully or he can step down and let someone else do it or it will be done for him. I hope the French will come to the understanding of the need for such a strategy and the importance of such a strategy,” he added.

Even as Schroeder and Chirac discussed the crisis, their ambassadors blocked a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) decision on whether to prepare supporting measures in any U.S.-led war against Iraq.

“It was a pretty tough discussion. The arguments were flying. It’s all about timing,” one ambassador told Reuters.

Arab diplomats, meantime, began to gather in Istanbul, Turkey for a Thursday meeting of regional leaders aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the crisis.

The foreign ministers from Turkey, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have all said that United Nations inspections are the best hope for bringing peace to the region and ending the standoff over weapons of mass destruction.

“The meeting is based on dialogue and consultation in good faith between Iraq’s neighbor states and in the region with the goal of preventing a war in Iraq,” Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara told reporters, “and toward a peaceful resolution to the Iraqi crisis based on international law and [United Nations] resolution 1441 in particular.”

Turkish diplomats and others said the meeting would focus on ways to encourage Saddam Hussein to comply with the inspections regime.

“This summit and the contacts our government made before this summit are an expression of our search for peace. War is something no one desires,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener said.

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