French president avoids criticism of US over failure to secure peace in Iraq

DIPLOMACY: There was nothing in President Jacques Chirac's speech to suggest that France had ever opposed the US decision to oust Saddam Hussein


Sun, Aug 31, 2003 - Page 7

There was no rancor, but no regret either.

When President Jacques Chirac stood before his ambassadorial corps on Friday for his annual state of the world speech, he omitted all criticism of the US-led war in Iraq and the failure of the US to secure the peace there.

In fact, there was nothing in Chirac's speech to suggest that France had ever opposed the US decision to oust former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein by force.

In his first major foreign policy address since the Iraq war, he chose only to underscore the need for Iraqis to determine their own future under the authority of the UN.

"The only realistic option is to transfer authority and sovereignty to the Iraqis themselves," Chirac said. "This must be rapidly implemented as part of a process to which only the the UN is in a position to give legitimacy, with the support of the countries in the region."

He added that once such a framework was established, "the international community will be able to provide effective and full support for the reconstruction of the country in a manner which must be worked out with the Iraqis themselves."

Without criticizing the US, Chirac defended the French position of containing Iraq by UN-sponsored weapons inspections as the most "effective and legitimate instrument of collective action."

Chirac, who is scheduled to meet with US President George W. Bush in New York in late September, is said by aides to be looking for ways to restore America's confidence in France after its refusal to join the US action.

Like Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, Chirac sees the world as a place with multiple centers of power. He has said that this "multipolar" world needs to operate as a global power, limiting in a firm but friendly manner US interests and influence.

On Friday, Chirac adopted a more modulated tone. He refrained from calling for limits on US power, but he defended the decision by France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg -- NATO countries that opposed the war -- to launch a joint security and defense initiative last April aimed at making Europe's defense policy more coherent and more independent of that of the US.

That initiative was criticized by other NATO countries as unnecessary and exclusionary, and was seen by the US as a direct challenge to it and to its allies who supported the war.

In his speech, Chirac emphasized the importance of the European-US relationship, saying: "Let there be, in this respect, no misunderstanding. Trans-Atlantic ties and the partnership between Europe and the US, our primary ally, constitute a crucial element of world security."

But he added, "The idea is to give Europe credibility," which requires "enhanced military capabilities" and the forging by Europe of new alliances with "other major poles in the world," including China, India, Japan, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

On the development of weapons of mass destruction, Chirac criticized those countries that he said "are failing to live up to their international commitments."