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'FRENCH SEE IRAQ CRISIS IMPERILING RULE OF LAW - CONCERN FOCUSES ON FUTURE OF INTERNATIONAL ORDER'


11th September 2001
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FROM: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A48123-2003Mar5.html

French See Iraq Crisis Imperiling Rule of Law -
Concern Focuses on Future of International Order

By Keith B. Richburg

Washington Post Foreign Service

Thursday, March 6, 2003; Page A19

PARIS, March 5 -- As the Iraq crisis moves closer to war, France finds itself fighting a battle that officials see as far more important than what happens to a dictator in Baghdad. The issue now is the rule of law in international affairs and the danger that one country will exercise unchecked power over the world, French leaders say.

"There's never been any doubt in our eyes that the Iraqi regime constitutes a threat to peace in the region and beyond," Alain Juppe, leader of President Jacques Chirac's ruling party, told Parliament last week. But he added: "Only the United Nations has the legitimacy to decide on the use of force to enforce its resolutions."

In recent weeks, France has led resistance at the United Nations and in world forums against U.S. pressure to begin war against the government of President Saddam Hussein. Today its foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, issued a new challenge to Washington, coming together with his counterparts from Russia and Germany to declare that their governments will block a pro-war resolution in the U.N. Security Council.

"This is not about Saddam Hussein, and this is not even about regime change in Iraq or even the million people killed by Saddam Hussein or missiles or chemical weapons," Pierre Lellouche, a legislator who is close to Chirac, said in an interview. "It is about what has become two conflicting views of the world."

"It's about whether the United States is allowed to run world affairs and battle terrorism and weapons proliferation essentially with a small group of trusted allies," or whether many nations should have a say, he said.

France's immediate concerns about war have been widely reported. Its leaders fear it would destabilize the entire Middle East, a region Chirac knows well and has spent his political life cultivating. They worry that war would increase rather than curb terrorism in the West. But overriding these and other concerns, statements by officials and interviews make clear, is a concern over the future global order.

The French have a self-interest in keeping the U.N. Security Council strong. Although France is a middle-size power whose military has been allowed to atrophy for lack of funding in the past decade, it holds one of the council's five permanent seats and veto power, allowing it to punch above its weight on the world stage.

In Chirac's view, the Security Council and the European Union are becoming counterweights to the United States in the post-Cold War, post-Sept. 11 world -- and in each of those bodies, France has a say greater than its size or military capability.

In Washington, the French resistance to war has caused anger and exasperation. Many officials have suggested that Chirac must now stop his obstruction and accept the need for war. In a front-page article in the newspaper Le Monde last week, U.S. Ambassador Howard Leach wrote: "In the Iraqi matter, we have come to an important point of decision and France's answer may have repercussions for years to come."

Some French analysts say they believe Chirac is already looking for a way to begin backing away from his tough opposition to an armed conflict. Any sign of open Iraqi obstruction of the U.N. weapons inspectors, for example, would be enough for him to reverse course and say the Iraqi leader has squandered his last chance.

But so far, Hussein is not giving him that opportunity. Last weekend, for instance, Hussein was faced with the question of destroying his Al Samoud-2 missiles, which can fly beyond the 93-mile range allowed under U.N. restrictions on Iraq. He opted to begin the destruction, removing one potential trigger to a change in the French stance.

In others' views, it has simply become too difficult for either Chirac or President Bush to change course. "Right now we have two gentlemen sitting on the top of a coconut tree with great difficulty in coming down," Lellouche said. "This is a crazy policy on both sides."

The key unanswered question for many people -- including Chirac's supporters in Parliament -- is whether the president will authorize use of France's Security Council veto against a new resolution by the United States, Britain and Spain to authorize military action against Baghdad.

A French veto would be "very unfriendly" and could cause lasting damage to Franco-American relations, Ambassador Leach said in a French television interview, using stronger than usual diplomatic parlance.

Several of Chirac's conservative supporters in the national assembly have also voiced caution about the veto, which they suspect would cause a serious rupture with France's most important strategic ally and a key trading partner. "A veto would be tantamount to shooting our friends in the back," Lellouche said.

Opposition legislators, from the left, have sensed a wavering in Chirac concerning the veto and used last week's parliamentary debate to press the government to publicly declare that France will veto any resolution calling for war. "France should, if necessary, use its right to veto, to avoid an adventure," said Francois Hollande, leader of the opposition Socialist Party.

"The veto is not only a weapon of dissuasion, a threat," Hollande said. "It's a way of saying no to a preventive war.

It's a means of refusing a legal cover for an illegitimate intervention, and not cover in the flag of the United Nations a cause which is only the Bush administration's."

Chirac and his foreign minister, de Villepin, decline to say whether France would veto a new resolution, stating only that they believe inspections are working and that a new resolution is not needed.

Officials say they believe that Chirac may be undecided about what to do if a second resolution comes to a vote, and that French diplomats are working overtime to ensure it does not. The new U.S.-British resolution for now does not appear to have majority backing in the 15-member Security Council; members rarely request a vote unless they know they can win.

France has been working aggressively to shore up the antiwar camp among some traditional allies. It used an African summit last month to extract a unified statement from the 52 assembled leaders opposing war and supporting the French position. Three of the countries involved -- Angola, Cameroon and Guinea -- have seats on the Security Council.

Chirac's position has led to searching on the other side of the Atlantic for ulterior motives, such as commercial interests. But French officials say statistics do not bear that out. Iraq is a relatively tiny trading partner for France, accounting for just three-tenths of a percent of French imports and two-tenths of a percent of exports. France buys about 8 percent of Iraq's oil, making it Baghdad's fourth-largest customer. The biggest customer, the United States, buys 56 percent.

In any case, French officials say, the United States is a far more important economic partner for France than is Iraq, so why would the government risk angering Washington for business with Baghdad? Also, they say, if the question were simply future oil contracts, France would do better to support war now and position itself to win oil concessions from a grateful post-Hussein government.

Iraq owes French oil companies about $5 billion, but that amount is small relative to France's economy and has been mostly written off, analysts here said.

The French bristle at suggestions that their country is unwilling to go to war. They express anger at the lampooning by American late-night comedians who question their military commitment or prowess.

Officials point out that France contributed 10,000 troops and 100 combat aircraft to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. They also note that none of the world leaders they see as most bellicose -- Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- has been in active combat duty. Chirac, by contrast, served in Algeria as a young army officer during its war of independence in the 1950s.

In a Time magazine interview, Chirac gave his own view: "Any community with only one dominant power is always a dangerous one," he said.

"That's why I favor a multipolar world, in which Europe obviously has its place."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

FROM: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A48123-2003Mar5.html

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