Chirac Blasts U.S.-Led Invasion of Iraq

The Associated Press
Friday, January 5, 2007; 11:26 AM

PARIS -- President Jacques Chirac gave a tough critique Friday of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and its fallout, saying the war destabilized the entire Middle East and allowed terrorism to spread.

In a speech to ambassadors, Chirac also renewed his call for an international conference on the Middle East, saying he was deeply concerned by the growing number of crises there.

"At Europe's gate, the Middle East has become an epicenter of international tensions," Chirac said. "Crises are building up and spreading."

On Iraq, Chirac suggested the problems there today justified France's strong opposition to the invasion in 2003.

"As France foresaw and feared, the war in Iraq caused upheavals whose effects have not yet finished unraveling," he said.

"The venture exacerbated the divisions between (Iraqi) communities and undermined the very integrity of Iraq," he said. "It weakened the stability of the region, where every country is now worried about its security and independence. It gave terrorism new terrain for expansion."

Now, "more than ever, the priority is to return sovereignty to the Iraqis," Chirac said.

Chirac had rallied together voices against the Iraq war, the main foreign policy legacy of his 12 years in office. He is not expected to stand in elections this year, though he has not yet declared his intentions.

For months, Chirac has called for an international conference on the Middle East. The European Union should relaunch the work of the so-called Quartet peacemakers _ the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations _ with a proposal for a conference, he said.

Chirac said it should be "a new form of conference that, without claiming to dictate the terms of the settlement to the parties involved, would bring the new guarantees that they aspire to," he said. "Then, I am persuaded, a true dynamic of negotiation could be launched."

© 2007 The Associated Press