BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Russian Polish Albanian Greek Czech Ukrainian Serbian Turkish Romanian
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Europe  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 09:43 GMT
France 'facing both ways on Iraq'
Jacques Chirac
Tough question: Chirac may yet change position
The BBC's William Horsley

French President Jacques Chirac, heading into a crucial summit with the UK, is publicly opposed to war in Iraq - but in fact is keeping his options open.

France would like to preserve its special ties with Iraq.

The signs are that if it comes to war, French national interest would dictate it would take part

It has the closest trade links with Iraq of any country in Europe. Some 5% of French oil imports still come from Iraq.

And the big French oil firm TotalFinaElf hopes to win valuable contracts in Iraqi oilfields whenever the current international sanctions are lifted.

Open in new window : Clickable Map
Conflict with Iraq : Where Europe stands

As French Prime Minister in the mid-1970s, Mr Chirac personally cultivated a special relationship with Iraq and its leader, Saddam Hussein.

In past years, French firms built a nuclear power plant at Osirak near Baghdad, which was attacked by Israel in 1981.

UN Security Council
A second Security Council resolution could bring France into the war
The French have also sold the Iraqis fighter aircraft, missiles, radar and other weapons systems worth an estimated $25bn.

This long-term relationship would be put at risk if France were to take part in a US-led war against Iraq.

Mr Chirac did not speak of economic interests last month when he tried, with Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, to forge a policy against the use of military force in the name of Europe as a whole.

He said the United Nations weapons inspectors must have more time, and that there was "so far" no justification for using military force.

His Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, implied that France might veto a new UN resolution authorising war.

He said the government would go "all the way" to defend its stance.

Muscle-flexing

Mr Chirac has been right at the centre of the diplomatic struggle over Iraq at the United Nations.

Jacques Chirac (left) and Gerhard Schroeder
Shoulder to shoulder - but Germany could ultimately be left alone
He has flexed France's muscles as one of the five nations with a veto in the Security Council.

But Jacques Chirac has left himself a possible escape route, should he change his mind.

Despite all the rhetoric, commentators say he may well be persuaded to do so, in the face of more proof that Iraq holds illegal weapons, or signs that France is becoming isolated.

Early in January he ordered the French armed forces to be ready "for any eventuality".

France's nuclear-powered aircraft-carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, with a powerful battle group, is now reported to be setting sail from Toulon for the eastern Mediterranean.

War footing

And France's Defence Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, has said that French forces will be "ready to intervene" in Iraq if the decision is taken.

She added that it could take as little as two weeks for them to be on a war footing.

France has done much to give weapons inspections a chance, and to ensure that any decision for war is taken through a second UN resolution.

But the signs are that if it comes to war, French national interest would dictate it would take part.


Key stories

Analysis

CLICKABLE GUIDE

BBC WORLD SERVICE

AUDIO VIDEO

TALKING POINT
See also:

30 Jan 03 | Europe
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes