French President Jacques Chirac said in a television interview broadcast today that he remains opposed to a U.S.-led war in Iraq, but offered a new proposal of a 30-day deadline for Iraqi disarmament.
Chirac, speaking hours before President Bush met in the Azores with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, said he was "ready to accept any accord . . . that has the approval" of the U.N. weapons inspectors.
"We are not just going to use our veto to nag and annoy the U.S. But we just feel that there is another option, another way, another more normal way, a less dramatic way than war, and that we have to go through that path. And we should pursue it until we've come to a dead end, but that isn't the case," Chirac said.
The interview, by journalist Christiane Amanpour, was broadcast in the United States tonight on CNN International and on CBS's "60 Minutes." It came one day after France, Russia and Germany issued a joint statement rejecting war but urging the U.N. Security Council to set a "strict and realistic" timetable for the Iraqi president to give up any weapons of mass destruction. Chirac had earlier proposed a 120-day deadline for Iraqi compliance.
Chirac said he believed weapons inspectors were making significant progress, described the French-U.S. relationship as one of "friendship, of love, even," and denied reports that French companies had transferred materials for use in long-range Iraqi missiles.
Political analysts across Europe, meanwhile, offered differing interpretations of the Azores summit. Gary Smith, executive director of the American Academy in Berlin, which studies U.S.-German relations, said that given the recent setback for the United States and its allies, "drawing the line" was understandable, and appropriate. "The more they drag this thing out, the more difficult it's going to be because the coalition for war has been losing ground diplomatically from week to week. It's clear they had to draw the line in the sand."
In an interview before the Azores meeting, Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, in London, questioned the summit's relevance. "Obviously, this meeting won't influence France, Russia or the undecided six" Security Council nations, he predicted. "In a sense," Grant added, "Bush has to convince Blair that the more they try to get a second resolution through a strange diplomatic route, the more they discredit themselves."
Threat of war dominated weekend talk shows across Europe, and Blair's future was a constant theme. Two high-ranking members of Blair's government have signaled that they might resign should war proceed without Security Council sanction.
Charles Kennedy, a member of Britain's Parliament and leader of the Liberal Democrat party, used a speech at the party's spring meeting in Torquay, England, to sharply criticize the Azores summit, calling it a "Council of Despair."
"If the president and prime minister were serious about finding a serious solution, they'd be in New York, talking with Kofi Annan," the U.N. secretary general, "not talking with each other," he said, to applause.