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Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 09:05 GMT
Paris pact urges inspection boost
Putin (l) and Chirac in Paris
Russia and France say war can still be avoided
France, Germany and Russia have released an unprecedented joint declaration on the Iraq crisis, demanding more weapons inspectors and more technical assistance for them.

Russia, Germany and France are in favour of the continuation of the inspections and the substantial reinforcement of their human and technical capacities through all possible means... There is an alternative to war. The use of force can only be considered as a last resort

Joint declaration
The communique, released after talks in Paris between President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, warned that war against Iraq should be considered a last resort.

Mr Putin flew to France from Germany, where he held talks with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at the weekend.

Mr Putin's visit began as Europe's divisions on Iraq also surfaced dramatically in a heated Nato meeting in Brussels. France and Belgium blocked plans to boost Turkish defences ahead of any war with Iraq.

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Conflict with Iraq : Where Europe stands
Mr Putin will hold three days of talks in France, which will be dominated by Iraq.

"Nothing today justifies a war," Mr Chirac told a joint news conference with Mr Putin. "This region really does not need another war."

Anti-war protester
President Putin says world opinion is on his side
He said France did not have "undisputed proof" that Iraq still held weapons of mass destruction.

"All possibilities of the resolution must be explored and that still leaves a lot of room for manoeuvre to achieve the goal of eliminating any weapons of mass destruction that Iraq may possess," Mr Chirac said.

Mr Putin told journalists that Russia and France insisted on the need for a policy aimed at a diplomatic outcome to the crisis.

"We believe that use of force may lead to an unpredictable escalation in tension," he said.

BBC Paris correspondent James Coomarasamy says France and Russia appear to be on the same diplomatic wavelength.

Mr Chirac broke with protocol by travelling to Charles de Gaulle airport in person to welcome his Russian visitor.

Both nations have the power of veto on the UN Security Council, and are trying to steer the crisis away from war, while urging Iraq to comply at once with UN resolutions.

Diplomatic coup?

France suggests doubling or trebling the number of weapons inspectors - possibly to 300 - and giving them more time - months longer if necessary.

But reports of a Franco-German proposal to deploy thousands of UN peacekeepers were denied on Monday in Paris and Berlin.

We are convinced that efforts for a peaceful resolution of the situation should be persistently continued

Vladimir Putin
Forming a strong three-way alliance between Russia, France and Germany could be seen as a diplomatic coup for Paris and Berlin, previously dismissed by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as "old Europe".

Germany has said fresh proposals on boosting weapons inspectors, based on the French plan, will be presented to the Security Council on Friday.

That would set up a direct confrontation with the US, which has dismissed it as a diversion.

'War sceptics'

Despite the three-way agreement, Europe remains deeply split over the way forward on Iraq.

The UK is leading a bloc of countries, including Spain and Italy, supportive of the US position, while France, Germany and Russia lead the "war sceptics".

"We are convinced that a one-sided use of force would lead to great suffering for the Iraqi population and increase tension in the whole region," Mr Putin said after talks with Mr Schroeder on Sunday.

Mr Putin says China, Russia, France and Germany - all Security Council members - share similar views on the crisis.

UN weapons inspectors deliver a key report to the Security Council on Friday, when they will reveal whether the Iraqis are complying with UN disarmament obligations.

Fresh row

Coverage of the reported Franco-German troop deployment plan, which first appeared in German media, provoked a diplomatic backlash from other European countries.

If you start waving peace plans now, Hussein will think 'Great, I will fool them again'

Dutch Foreign Ministry
Italian Defence Minister Antonio Martino called the plan "confused" .

And the Dutch Government reacted with even greater anger.

"It is foolish to launch this scheme through the media and the timing is unfortunate because... the pressure on Saddam Hussein should not let up," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

"If you start waving peace plans now, Hussein will think 'Great, I will fool them again'."

The BBC's Brian Hanrahan
"The proposals have been rejected by America"

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05 Feb 03 | Europe
06 Feb 03 | Middle East
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