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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April, 2003, 00:15 GMT 01:15 UK
US seeks to sideline France
President Bush and President Chirac
Mr Bush says the two countries alliance will continue
American State Department officials say the United States may seek to exclude France from key decision-making within Nato in response to French opposition to the US-led war in Iraq.

The officials said a range of possible steps against France were under discussion including ensuring that Nato decisions are made by the organisation's Defence Planning Committee, of which France is not a member.

The statements come after the US secretary of state Colin Powell said France would face consequences because of recent events.

Mr Powell said the US would be reviewing all aspects of its relations with France in light of its decision to veto any UN Security Council resolution authorising war against Iraq.

Nato decisions are usually taken by the North Atlantic Council (NAC) which contains all 19 members of the alliance, but they can also be taken by the Defence Planning Committee, which would exclude France.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Mr Powell says the US is reviewing its relationship with France

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said France's opposition to the war "has put a strain on the relationship" but that President George W Bush believes that the two countries share many common values and that their alliance would continue.

But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the division went further than a difference of opinion.

"It's more than philosophical. Potentially, it will affect how some decisions are made in the future," he said.

Sanctions dispute

On Wednesday France's Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who is currently touring the Middle East, telephoned Mr Powell and had a conversation which Mr Boucher described as "reflective of the current relationship we have with France."

Under discussion was what should be done with regard to the United Nations sanctions against Iraq, Mr Boucher said.

On Tuesday France's UN ambassador - in an unexpected move - proposed the immediate suspension of sanctions against Iraq.

However, France still appears to be pressing for the involvement of UN weapons inspectors in verifying any illegal weapons finds in Iraq before the sanctions can be finally lifted.

OIL-FOR-FOOD
Provides food for about 60% of Iraqis
Aims to give Iraqis 2,470 calories per day
570,000 tonnes of food a month
44,000 distribution agents
Five entry points

In an apparent rebuff of the French proposal, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Wednesday that the sanctions must be lifted, "not merely suspended".

The French ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, said the sanctions issue was linked by past Security Council resolutions to a certification of Iraqi disarmament.

"So meanwhile, we could suspend the sanctions and adjust the oil-for-food [programme] with an idea of its phasing out," he told reporters, following a briefing by UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.

Under the oil-for-food programme - launched in December 1996, suspended on the eve of war but now resumed - the UN manages the use of funds generated by limited Iraqi oil sales to pay for imports of humanitarian goods.




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Secretary of State Colin Powell
"We did not believe they played a helpful role"



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