Countering blunt talk of war by the Bush administration, France and Germany on Wednesday insisted that they are committed to a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis.

"War is not inevitable," French President Jacques Chirac told a historic joint session of the French and German parliaments. "The only framework for a legitimate solution is the United Nations."

The statement - made during a ceremony marking 40 years of reconciliation between the once-hostile nations - came as the top U.S. military commander declared American forces could remain in a high state of readiness for months if necessary.

But Gen. Richard Myers, U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that American troops were nevertheless poised for action.

"We're ready now. The Iraqi regime should have no doubt," he said in Washington.

After a joint meeting of the French and German Cabinets, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the two countries "are entirely in agreement to harmonize our positions more closely in favor of a peaceful solution of the Iraqi crisis."

Chirac said both nations agreed that any decision to attack Iraq should be made only by the U.N. Security Council, after U.N. weapons inspectors have reported their findings.

"For us, war is always the proof of failure and the worst of solutions, so everything must be done to avoid it," Chirac said.

France, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, hinted this week that it could use its veto power on the issue, while Schroeder has made plain that Germany will refuse to back an Iraq war resolution in the council.

Britain - the closest U.S. ally on Iraq - has said it would prefer Security Council support. But Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday his country would back a U.S.-led war without United Nations support if any countries imposed "unreasonable blockage" of a Security Council resolution.

Chirac said France, which holds the current Security Council leadership, and Germany were working closely in the council "to give peace the utmost chance."

Though Germany has no veto power, the country will assume a key role in Iraq war diplomacy when it takes over the council leadership in February.

In that position, Germany plans on asking chief weapons inspectors to provide the council with an additional report on Iraq's cooperation, diplomats at the United Nations told The Associated Press.

The move is likely to deepen divisions among the council since the United States is trying to block inspectors from issuing further reports after one scheduled Monday, which the Bush administration sees as a crucial benchmark after two months of inspections.

France and Germany are also key members of NATO, which is currently discussing a request from the United States to provide backup should war break out in Iraq.

Meanwhile, U.N. arms inspectors ran into protests at Basra University in Iraq with dozens of students gathering to demonstrate against the inspections.

"No war for oil," read one sign in English, reflecting a common Iraqi view that U.S. threats to attack Iraq have more to do with American designs on Iraqi oil than with concern over its weapons.

Also Wednesday, the White House denied an Iraqi claim that its air defenses shot down an unmanned American spy plane.

In New York, chief inspector Hans Blix complained that Iraq was balking at allowing the United Nations reconnaissance overflights.

The French-German push for a peaceful disarming of Iraq came as their nations marked the 1963 signing of a treaty that sealed their friendship after fighting three wars in just 70 years.

Chirac and Schroeder announced a series of initiatives to bring the former enemies even closer, including a plan to grant French and Germans shared nationality.

Schroeder said he and Chirac agreed dual nationality would be offered "in the long term" to Germans and French who live in the other country. They did not provide other details.

As the buildup of forces near Iraq went on, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in Washington that a war against Iraq could last "four days, four weeks or four months."

He also said it seemed reasonable to expect that large numbers of Iraqi troops would surrender early as they did in the 1991 Gulf War, reducing the number of battlefield casualties.

The Pentagon reported that more than 20,000 additional members of the National Guard and Reserve were called to active duty over the past week, pushing the total mobilized to 78,906 as of Wednesday. It was the largest one-week total since the buildup began in December.

President Bush said in St. Louis that if the United States has to go to war, not only Saddam Hussein would face "serious consequences" but also "any Iraqi general or soldiers who were to use weapons on our troops or on innocent lives."

In Australia, the government announced it was dispatching air, land and naval forces to the Gulf region.