PARIS -- French President Francois Mitterrand said yesterday that France would be willing to support a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq, but he warned that it would not automatically support a war.
Speaking at a news conference after the closing of the 34-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Mr. Mitterrand said that he had spoken with President Bush about the Persian Gulf crisis over dinner at the Elysee Palace Sunday.
"Mr. Bush said to me, 'Do you think one should adopt a new resolution which would authorize possibly, if required, the use of force?' And my answer was, 'Yes,' " he said.
Mr. Mitterrand's remarks ended weeks of speculation over France's readiness to support a U.S. resolution authorizing the use of force in the gulf and came after several attempts by Secretary of State James A. Baker III and President Bush to win French and Soviet backing for such a resolution.
Mr. Mitterrand said he had discussed the proposed resolution with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who, the French leader said, appeared to agree with the French position.
Yesterday, after meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Mr. Gorbachev called for a Security Council meeting to discuss new resolutions that could be taken to try to pressure Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
"We can't just leave things this way without giving them closer analysis," Mr. Gorbachev said here. "The situation is very dangerous."
The CSCE talks, which brought four of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council here to celebrate the end of the Cold War, offered President Bush a rare opportunity to lobby the leaders of France, Britain and the Soviet Union for support.
Britain presented no opposition to the U.S. proposal for a new U.N. resolution.
Yesterday, Mr. Mitterrand made it clear that France would not automatically support a war but that it would support a resolution authorizing force because it considered Article 51 of the U.N. Charter an insufficient basis for military action.
Article 51 stipulates that any member state that is the victim of aggression may ask another U.N. member for military assistance. International legal experts have argued that Article 51 could only have been used immediately after the Aug. 2 invasion and that U.N. measures already taken against Iraq supersede Article 51.
U.S. officials, backed by the British, have acknowledged that it would be politically unwise to use force without a consensus from the Security Council but have contended that Article 51 provides a sufficient legal basis for military action.
Mr. Mitterrand said yesterday that Article 51 was "too general" to use in the case of Kuwait.
"When taking a decision of this proportion, you would have to be explicit," Mr. Mitterrand said.
Mr. Mitterrand also made it clear France did not equate passage of a U.N. resolution with approval of an attack. "In my mind, there is nothing automatic about this," he said.
He said France would like to see the resolution worded in a way that would require the Security Council to meet again to determine that sanctions had not succeeded and to vote then for the use of force.
Mr. Mitterrand also said he believed that Mr. Gorbachev was in agreement with him. "I cannot say [Mr. Gorbachev] would
approve a new text, but he appeared to hint it would be possible, especially if that would weigh on the resolve of Mr. Saddam Hussein," Mr. Mitterrand said.
Closing ranks with the United States, Mr. Mitterrand stressed that Iraqi President Hussein could not expect to play on Western divisions by his recent conditional decision to gradually release all Western hostages over the next three months, while deploying an additional 250,000 troops to Kuwait.
"With the passage of time, if there is no real progress, the danger grows," Mr. Mitterrand said. He said that Mr. Hussein must reverse his course and withdraw from Kuwait because the momentum toward war was growing.
"He has to act, or it might be too late," Mr. Mitterrand said.
The strongest affirmation of France's commitment to U.N. resolutions against Iraq -- despite its political and commercial ties to Arab states -- came in response to a rather preachy question raising the specter of war from a reporter at L'Humanite, the Communist Party daily.
"I understand the tone of the question," Mr. Mitterrand said. "You want to create an atmosphere of alarmism and forget the duty of France, a permanent member of the Security Council that has the responsibility of carrying out the decisions of the Security Council."