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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 06:39 GMT
West's rift deepens over Iraq
France and Germany oppose the use of force
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has questioned the commitment of France and Germany to disarming Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein after the European allies publicly spoke out against a war on Iraq.

Colin Powell
If we are the occupying power, [Iraq's oil fields] will be held for the benefit of the Iraqi people

Colin Powell
US Secretary of State
As disagreements over how to deal with Iraq deepened, Mr Powell said the United States would hold Iraq's oilfields "in trust" for the Iraqi people in the event of a US-led invasion.

Earlier, US President George W Bush warned that any Iraqi who used weapons of mass destruction against US troops or Iraqi civilians would be tried for war crimes afterwards.

America's top general, meanwhile, said the United States had seen some indications of unrest among some of the Iraqi leadership.

While the US and Britain continued their military build-up in the Gulf, foreign ministers from Iraq's neighbours - Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria - and Egypt, were gathering in Turkey on Thursday to discuss ways of avoiding a war.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Istanbul says some of the countries want a declaration to include criticism of US aggression, as well as a strongly worded demand that Saddam Hussein comply with United Nations resolutions.

But, he says, any criticism of the US would embarrass the host, Turkey, which is a close ally of Washington and is considering American requests for military assistance should war come.

With opposition to a possible war hardening, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is due to hold talks with Colin Powell and US Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington on Thursday.

US frustration

In comments released by the State Department, Mr Powell charged France and Germany with acting prematurely.

Open in new window : Who backs war?
Where key nations stand on Iraq

"It's almost as if people want to make a decision before the 27th", he said, referring to next Monday when UN weapons inspectors will present their report on Iraq to the UN Security Council.

"It's not clear to me how long they want [the weapons inspections] to continue, or whether they are serious about bringing it to a conclusion at some time," said Mr Powell.

DEPLOYMENT DETAILS
100,000 US troops including:
12,000 4th Infantry division troops
2,000 Marines trained for chemical and biological warfare
26,000 UK troops including:
Royal Marines, tanks and an air assault brigade

The secretary of state's comments came after French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder presented a united front against a possible war on Iraq.

"Germany and France have the same judgement on the Iraq crisis," Mr Chirac said at a joint press conference on Wednesday.

"Everything must be done to avoid war," he said.

The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that France and Germany were "a problem", but insisted that many other countries in Europe were "anxious and willing" to join a coalition to disarm Iraq.

Oil fields

In a further sign of a growing rift between America and France, Colin Powell accused French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of "trampling" on a special UN Security Council meeting on Monday, by speaking out at the meeting against the use of force against Iraq.

Mr Powell said he had a "candid and honest forthright exchange of views" with the French minister on Tuesday.

Describing the disagreements with France as a "blip", he said he hoped "the French will come to the understanding of the need" to use the threat of force to compel Saddam Hussein to disarm.

He said the United States was examining different ways of managing Iraq's oil fields if America invaded Iraq.

"If we are the occupying power, [Iraq's oil fields] will be held for the benefit of the Iraqi people," he said.

'Signs of unrest'

The chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Myers, meanwhile, told reporters that there were "indications about unrest in some of the Iraqi leadership".

President Bush
When Iraq is liberated, you will be treated, tried and persecuted as a war criminal

US President George W Bush

He did not give any details, but his remarks echo similar comments by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

General Myers said, however, there was no sign the Iraqi military was not following orders.

Earlier, President Bush warned Iraqi generals or soldiers to disobey any orders to use weapons of mass destruction or "when Iraq is liberated, you will be treated, tried and persecuted as a war criminal".

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Ian Pannell reports from Washington
"There are diplomatic mountains to conquer"
  The BBC's Ian Pannell
"The US is pretty much set on war"

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22 Jan 03 | Europe
22 Jan 03 | Media reports
21 Jan 03 | Business
22 Jan 03 | Americas
23 Jan 03 | Politics
23 Jan 03 | Middle East
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