FRANCE AND Britain clashed openly yesterday at the UN Security Council as the French foreign minister rejected a British proposal to give Saddam Hussein a deadline to disarm, calling it a "pretext for war".
France: Unequivocally took on the mantle of leader of the "peace party", threatening to use its veto and attacking the core logic of President George Bush's arguments for war.
Although Dominique de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister, called for an emergency summit of heads of state and government to try to find a settlement, he made it clear that Paris was now prepared for a head-on confrontation with the United States and Britain.
M. de Villepin went further than ever before in threatening to veto any resolution which provided "a pretext for war". With Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, looking on stony-faced, M. de Villepin assailed the logic of US policy in the Gulf. "Significant elements of a real disarmament [in Iraq] can now be seen," he said.
To insist on "regime change" in Baghdad as the start of a process of political transformation in the Middle East was fatally flawed, he said. "Force is not the way to impose democracy."
He added said military force might be able to settle the immediate problem in Iraq but it would be a "false" and dangerous model for the solution of other problems, such as North Korea.
M. de Villepin said France rejected the British idea for a short deadline and a clear ultimatum to Baghdad, but he said Paris could accept a shortening of its own proposed four-month timetable for "clear progress" in Iraq.
Russia: Although less forceful than M. de Villepin, Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, welcomed the latest report by the weapons inspectors as proof that military action was unnecessary and wrong. "For the first time in many years in Iraq, there is a real process of disarmament going on," he said. "We have been able to achieve essential progress in the implementation of resolution 1441."
It was clear Iraq could improve its co-operation, but the US could not claim to be standard-bearers of an "absolute truth" about the threat from Baghdad, he said. Without such an absolute truth, war could not be justified.
Germany: Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, has been steadfastly opposed to military force. Baghdad's co-operation with the weapons inspectors, he said, could have been earlier and more willing. But, he stressed, Iraq's latest moves to disarm showed "peaceful disarmament is possible and there is a real alternative to war". He said Germany saw no need for a second resolution that might trigger the use of force.
China: Hitherto seen as a lukewarm opponent of force, it echoed Germany's reluctance to vote on a second resolution. Tang Jiaxuan, China's Foreign Minister, urged Iraq to step up its co-operation …