French President Jacques Chirac insisted Thursday that any military action against Iraq be decided by the U.N. Security Council, joining the chorus of leaders urging Washington to exercise restraint in its plans against Baghdad.
Chirac, in a speech to French ambassadors in Paris, called the possibility of unilateral U.S. action "worrying", and said it would be contrary to "the cooperation of states, the respect of law and the authority of the Security Council."
Chirac's comments come as the Bush administration is debating an invasion or bombing campaign to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power. Washington accuses Iraq of rebuilding facilities to produce weapons of mass destruction.
On Thursday, two prominent lawmakers urged President Bush to ask Congress for authorization before launching an attack, approval administration officials have said is not necessary. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., called for a full debate and vote in Congress.
Chirac's speech firmly put France on the list of nations urging Bush to go slow on his war plans. The German chancellor called on Washington to consult fully with allies on its plans, and the British Foreign Office suggested setting a deadline for Saddam to allow the return of inspectors.
The Iraqi government said on Thursday that it was ready to negotiate.
"There's still room for diplomatic solutions to avert a war with the United States," said Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, who met with Syrian officials in Damascus to raise support for Iraq's position.
"We take the American threats seriously as we know the [U.S.] administration is mad and criminal," Ramadan said before heading to Beirut, where a meeting with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud was scheduled for Friday.
Ramadan has said before that any return of United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq would not prevent U.S. military strikes against his country. U.N. inspectors charged with confirming the dismantling of Iraq's mass-destruction weapons have been barred from Iraq since 1998.
Speaking during a visit to Baghdad Thursday, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, an opponent of U.N. sanctions against Iraq, said an American strike to topple Saddam would be the "most notorious, arrogant and contemptuous violation" of the U.N. charter.
"The United Nations must be able to restrain the United States from carrying out crimes against peace and humanity," Clark, a frequent critic of U.S. government policy, told reporters.
Turkey, a longtime U.S. ally, has also expressed doubts about an attack. It proposed tighter trade sanctions against Iraq rather than a military operation in two days of talks with high-level Bush administration officials.
The French president, who in past statements has expressed strong support for U.S. demands that Iraq accept the weapons inspectors, reiterated his view that the United Nations should be consulted before an attack on Baghdad.
"If Baghdad persists in refusing the unconditional return of inspectors, the Security Council will have to decide which measures to take," Chirac said in a speech at the Elysee presidential palace.
Chirac did not say whether France -- one of five nations on the Security Council with veto power -- would support a measure supporting military action against Iraq.
The speech also indicated the French government was seeking a balance between its support for U.N. consultation on Iraq and its sympathy with Washington's concerns about the security threat posed by Baghdad.
As recently as Tuesday, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said that the Iraqi defiance of international rules was "unacceptable."
But with discussions of invasion building steam in the United States, European leaders scrambled to get Bush officials to consult more closely with before acting.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, an outspoken critic of an invasion, said it would not be "sufficient" for Washington to simply provide allies with details of its plans.
"If consultations are meant seriously, they must not just be about the how and the when, but also on the question of whether this is done at all," Schroeder was quoted as saying in an advance copy of the interview in Friday's edition of the Muenchner Merkur daily.
Schroeder's defense minister, meanwhile, suggested that a contingent of 52 German soldiers stationed in Kuwait with six armored vehicles equipped for detecting nuclear and chemical hazards could be withdrawn if Iraq is attacked.
Schroeder, who faces elections in less than four weeks, has said repeatedly he won't commit German troops to any assault on Iraq. He has warned that it could wreck the international anti-terror coalition, inflame the Middle East and hurt the world economy.
Three rounds of talks between the United Nations and Iraq this year failed to persuade Baghdad to readmit the inspectors. Baghdad often accuses the inspectors of being spies working for the United States and Israel.