France seeks to mend fences with U.S.

Even so, foreign minister criticizes postwar plans

War In Iraq

March 28, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LONDON - With French-American relations severely strained over the conflict in Iraq, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of France offered an olive branch to Washington yesterday - but immediately declined to say explicitly who he hoped would win the war for Baghdad.

And even as he insisted that France stood ready for reconciliation with Washington, the French official delivered an impassioned attack on U.S. plans to sideline the United Nations and assume the leading role in running postwar Iraq.

De Villepin became familiar to many Americans as the French diplomat who successfully led a broad coalition at the United Nations against attempts by the United States and Britain to secure Security Council authorization for last week's invasion of Iraq. France regards the war in Iraq as illegal.

With U.S. and British troops locked in combat from Basra to cities just south of Baghdad, de Villepin flew to London to address the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a private policy group.

British officials said there were no plans for him to meet with senior government officials. Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Minister Jack Straw were in the United States for meetings at the White House and at the United Nations.

"These times of great changes call for a renewed close and trusting relationship with the United States," de Villepin said, adding that France is willing.

"Because they share common values, the United States and France will re-establish close cooperation in complete solidarity," he said. "We owe it to the friendship between our peoples, for the international order that we wish to build together."

But he repeatedly took issue with the Bush administration's doctrine of pre-emptive military action against perceived enemies and against what he depicted as Washington's readiness to use force unilaterally to pursue its goals.

"We do not oppose the use of force," de Villepin said. "We are only warning against the risks of pre-emptive strikes as a doctrine. What examples are we setting for other countries? How legitimate would we feel such an action to be? What are our limits to the use of such might?

"In endorsing this doctrine, we risk introducing the principle of constant instability and uncertainty. We risk not controlling situations and rushing into escapism. Let us not open a Pandora's box."

Despite his qualified overture to the United States, de Villepin refused to endorse the allied war effort or to say explicitly whom he wanted to emerge as victor.

When a British reporter asked him where his sympathies lay in the war he replied, "I'm not going to answer because you have not listened carefully to what I have said before." The text of his speech, however, gave no particular clue as to what he meant, other than this comment: "I naturally wish that this conflict finds a swift conclusion with the minimum possible number of casualties."

De Villepin returned time and again to what he termed a need for collective decision-making at the United Nations. And, despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of American and British troops in Iraq, he seemed to suggest that the path to Iraq's disarmament lay through U.N. weapons inspectors.

"More importantly, the U.N. must be at the heart of the reconstruction and administration of Iraq. The legitimacy of our action depends on it," he said.

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