France lobbies for votes to avert war

FRANCE’S foreign minister yesterday swung through Africa lobbying against a conflict in Iraq.

Dominique de Villepin began his hectic day in Luanda, hoping to win the Angolan vote on the United Nations Security Council, and plans further stops in Cameroon and Guinea.

The three undecided votes are considered crucial to France’s effort to deny the United States and Britain the nine votes they need to pass a resolution authorising war on Iraq.

A vote could come as early as tomorrow.

While Mr Villepin sought to swing some of the 10 rotating members of the Security Council, French President Jacques Chirac said that France was prepared to veto the US-backed resolution on Iraq if necessary, joining Russia in saying it would vote against giving Saddam Hussein until March 17 to disarm.

Mr Chirac said in a televised interview that France would vote against any resolution that contains an ultimatum leading to war: “No matter what the circumstances we will vote ’no.”’

Mr Chirac also said that it would be a “dangerous precedent” if the US went ahead with a war unilaterally. He added that France would not participate in such a fight.

“We are not engaged and we will not be if there is not a decision by the UN,” he said.

“The inspectors believe that by giving them the necessary time and means, the objective of eliminating weapons of mass destruction can be reached,” Mr Chirac said.

Mr Chirac said his decision on whether to travel New York to attend a possible vote depends on how many other leaders agree to attend.

Mr Chirac had proposed a gathering of heads of state at the Security Council to discuss the crisis over Iraq.

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