France must understand the consequences of its actions prior to the coalition invasion of Iraq, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has warned.
US relations with France are 'complicated', says Jack Straw
He claimed the war against Iraq could have been avoided if France and Russia had thrown their weight behind UN resolution 1441 which demanded Saddam Hussein's co-operation and compliance with UN weapons inspections.
While not detailing what "the consequences" would be, Mr Straw argued that some of the approaches by "our continental colleagues" had been "simply inexplicable" to most people in the US.
The foreign secretary said he was "optimistic" relations could be repaired between the US and Germany - which had also been opposed to the war - but he could not say the same about France.
Decisions have consequences and some of the approaches which were taken by some of our continental colleagues were simply inexplicable to most people in the US
Instead he said some French politicians wanted to set their country up as a "separate pole" in what was a "uni-polar world" - warning that this would cause "great instability".
Mr Straw's comments on France came during a special edition of BBC News Interactive's phone-in programme Talking Point.
"I haven't blamed France for military action," the foreign secretary insisted.
But he said: "I did however criticise France for what I thought was a lack of constructive approach to the implimentation of the resolution 1441."
Mr Straw said if France and Russia had joined in discussions at the Security Council for a "really tough ultimatum" to Saddam Hussein "then I think the war may have been avoided".
Concerning relations between France and the United States, we are friends and allies
"My criticism of my colleagues in France and elsewhere in Europe ... is that they all willed the end, which was the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his compliance with the UN, but they failed to will the means."
The foreign secretary compared the situation with the inaction of the League of Nations, the UK and France when Hitler marched into the Rhineland in the 1930s.
"The consequences of that is you then lead the UN down the same terrible road that the League of Nations got led down by France and by the UK by a joint failure of diplomacy in the 1930s."
Mr Straw stressed: "Decisions have consequences and some of the approaches which were taken by some of our continental colleagues were simply inexplicable to most people in the US.
"I assumed they factored that in when they made their decisions. But that's the truth and that is why you have got this kind of reaction from the other side of the Atlantic."
Mr Straw said there was a difference between current US relations with France and US relations with Germany.
"I think in Germany there is a greater degree of instinctive affection for the US, partly because of the huge role the US played in saving Germany from the Nazis and in then rebuilding that country and natural associations between different companies as well.
"So far as France is concerned, it is a much more complicated situation.
"I think both sides are committed to good relations but there is also over-laid this sense that ... they want to set France up as a separate pole, to create a bi-polar world from what is certainly a uni-polar world."
While that could happen in relation to culture, music and art, "you can't do that in terms of military matters or diplomacy because the power is so uneven and what we will end up with is great instability, not less, if you do try and set up two uneven poles", he said.
Welcoming Saddam's fall
But on Wednesday French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin insisted that Paris and Washington were friends - despite their differences over Iraq.
"Concerning relations between France and the United States, we are friends and allies," he told reporters in the Jordanian capital Amman following separate talks with King Abdullah II and Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Moasher.
"You do not sanction friendship, principles and international legality - the principles and legality that France has defended throughout this crisis.
"It is important now with the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, which we welcome, to look resolutely at the future. We have important challenges to face: the political, economic, social and administrative reconstruction of Iraq," he said.
"The entire international community must mobilise to face these challenges," de Villepin said.
Earlier this week US Secretary of State Colin Powell signalled that France would be punished for its anti-war stance.