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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 17:16 GMT
UK and France admit Iraq differences
French President Jacques Chirac and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
The two leaders were greeted by Le Touquet residents
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac have concluded talks aimed at repairing Anglo-French relations.

The two leaders emerged after their summit in the Northern French resort of Le Touquet to insist that there was a great sense of friendship between the two nations.

Mr Chirac said that both he and Mr Blair believed Iraq should be disarmed and that it should be done through the United Nations - but that differences remained on how that should be achieved.

Show weakness now and no one will ever believe us when we try to show strength in future

Tony Blair
Mr Chirac was asked if he would be prepared to use France's veto to stop a second UN resolution sanctioning war with Iraq.

He said: "France will fulfil its responsibilities as it sees fit at the appropriate time and in the light of the circumstances at that time."

He added: "I feel that war is always the worst possible solution.

"In that region above all others we don't want any more wars. We need to wait."

Common points

Mr Chirac said that having adopted a strategy of using inspectors, it was necessary to have trust that they could do their jobs.

"We need to give those inspectors the amount of time they need to carry out the work we have entrusted to them. That is my position."

Mr Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are opposed to swift military action against Iraq and are irritated by a letter from the prime minister and other EU countries supporting the US hardline stance against Saddam Hussein.

Mr Blair said: "Of course there are the differences that are familiar to people but it is important to emphasise again the two common points that the president alluded to.

"[Those are] support for the notion of disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and the belief that this is best pursued through the United Nations."

'Terrific' friendship

Tuesday's summit came as the BBC learned 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.

While the discussions covered a range of issues including immigration, defence and policy towards Zimbabwe, the looming war with Iraq topped the agenda.

Tony Blair (left) and George Bush
British Army prepared for three-year occupation of Iraq

On Monday Mr Blair told MPs there was no way the US and Britain would back down over Iraq disarming.

He said he did not want to be remembered as someone who "did nothing" about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

US President George W Bush has also been holding talks on Tuesday.

He had a telephone conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which the two leaders agreed to co-operate on Iraq within the framework of the UN.

Asylum review

Mr Blair is determined to win over sceptics, including many within his own party, and may be bolstered by a forthcoming US dossier claiming to expose Iraq's deliberate weapons concealment.

Artist's impression of new aircraft carrier
Artist's impression of new aircraft carrier

On asylum, Home Secretary David Blunkett and his French counterpart unveiled more measures to tackle illegal immigrants following the closure of the Sangatte refugee camp on the French coast.

There were also talks on closer co-operation in certain areas of defence policy.

Britain's aircraft carriers could now be used in rotation with those of France, Spain and Italy in combined European humanitarian and peacekeeping missions.

Mugabe spat

Differences continue between France and the UK over reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which turned into a major row last year when Mr Chirac snubbed Mr Blair and cancelled a previous date for their summit.

Britain and France also have to find agreement over Zimbabwe.

Mr Chirac wants to invite President Robert Mugabe to a human rights summit in Paris on 19 February - the day after the end of EU sanctions that ban Zimbabwe's president from travel in Europe.

Mr Blair wants the sanctions renewed and thinks inviting Mr Mugabe would undermine European unity in a key area of foreign policy.

After the summit Conservative foreign affairs spokesman Michael Ancram said that the Zimbabwean people had been "betrayed".

"Mugabe is now free to enter Paris on 19th February with the acquiescence of the British government. This is shameful and exposes Blair's supposed ethical foreign policy as the myth it is."

The BBC's Jon Sopel reports from Le Touquet
"The pressure will be on France to come off the fence"
The BBC's William Hawsley
"The French leader declined to repeat any clear opposition to military action"

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