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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 17:23 GMT
'UN key' to solving Iraq crisis
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair (l) and French President Jacques Chirac
The leaders tried hard to find common ground in public
The French and British leaders have agreed that Iraq must be disarmed and that the best approach is through the United Nations.

President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Tony Blair said differences remained between them, but both emphasised their common ground.

War is always the worst of solutions

French President
Jacques Chirac
Separately US President George W Bush called his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, seeking a unified approach to the Iraq issue in the UN Security Council.

The four countries - all leading members of the Council - need to agree a position, or at least not object, for a resolution to be passed.

The US and UK have been the most aggressive of the four, saying no further approval is needed from the UN before a possible invasion of Iraq.

UN emphasis

But France and Russia - both of whom may veto any Security Council ruling - have urged for more time for diplomacy. They would both like a second UN resolution before force is used to disarm Iraq.

KEY DATES
5 February: Colin Powell briefs UN
8-9 February: Chief weapons inspectors hold talks in Baghdad
14 February: Inspectors deliver updated report to UN
Attention will shift back to the Security Council on Wednesday, when US Secretary of State Colin Powell will present what his president says is new evidence that Baghdad is ignoring UN demands.

Mr Blair - who met Mr Bush for talks on Iraq last week - said it was vital to examine Mr Powell's evidence and a report from inspectors next week, before deciding if force was necessary to ensure Iraq did not have banned weapons.

But Mr Chirac said: "War is always the worst of solutions."

US President George W Bush (l) and Russian President Vladimir Putin
Mr Bush called Mr Putin, the Kremlin said
The French president caused a rift in the traditional transatlantic alliance last month when he joined German leader Gerhard Schroeder in opposing swift military action.

Correspondents say Mr Blair failed to get any new support from Mr Chirac. Instead, the two highlighted their basic agreement.

Mr Chirac said: "As far as Iraq is concerned, we have different approaches but first and foremost we have two convictions which are fundamental and are shared.

"The first is that we have to disarm Iraq, and the second conviction that we share is that this has to be undertaken within the Security Council of the United Nations.

"Regarding that, we are entirely in agreement," he said.

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

Mr Chirac said he had not yet decided whether France would veto a Security Council resolution explicitly authorising an invasion, should one be tabled.

Kremlin call

In the latest of what has become a series of one-to-one talks between leaders of Security Council members, Mr Bush called Mr Putin to brief him before Mr Powell's submission.

Weapons inspectors in Iraq
Mr Putin emphasised the key role of weapons monitors
A Kremlin statement said Mr Bush shared US assessments of Baghdad's claims that it was ridding the country of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

President Putin stressed the importance of the inspections inside Iraq but the two leaders said they would try to work together, the Kremlin said.

"The leaders of the two nations spoke out in favour of continuing close co-operation on the Iraqi problem, together with other nations, within the framework of the UN Security Council," the statement said.

The flurry of leadership talks came after the BBC learnt that senior British Army officers have been told to prepare for an occupation of Iraq lasting up to three years in the event of war.

The US, UK and other nations have been building up deployments of forces in the Gulf region for several months.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jon Sopel
"Forget the smiles for the cameras, relations are strained"
Gilles Bouleau, French TV channel TF1:
"These two guys are not getting on very well"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Tony Blair at an EU summit in Barcelona, March 2002Tense relations
Will Blair and Chirac heal their rift?

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See also:

04 Feb 03 | Europe
04 Feb 03 | Europe
04 Feb 03 | Europe
03 Feb 03 | Politics
02 Feb 03 | Middle East
29 Oct 02 | Politics
04 Feb 03 | Europe
04 Feb 03 | Europe
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