LE TOUQUET, France – British Prime Minister Tony Blair failed Tuesday to persuade France to join a U.S.-led coalition ready to take quick military action against Iraq.
Despite intense pressure by Blair, French President Jacques Chirac said he remained steadfastly opposed to war against Baghdad without giving U.N. weapons inspectors searching for banned weapons as much time they need to do their work.
When asked how much time -- weeks or months -- weapons inspectors should have, Chirac responded: "I can't put a timeframe on it. It's up to them to decide," Chirac said.
"There is still much to be done in the way of disarmament by peaceful means," Chirac said.
In an interview on national television late last month, Chirac indicated he favored granting a request by the United Nation's chief inspectors for several more months to determine whether Saddam Hussein's government is hiding weapons of mass destruction.
Chirac gave no indication Tuesday that the timetable he envisions for the weapons inspectors had changed.
"France is waiting to see what Colin Powell says tomorrow and what (weapons inspector Hans) Blix says on the 14th," Chirac said at a joint press conference with Blair. The press conference was not nationally televised in France.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, bidding for U.N. support, is set to present evidence Wednesday to the U.N. Security Council that Iraq has hidden large caches of weapons of mass destruction from international inspectors and has defied calls to disarm.
Despite their differences, both countries agree on two key points: that Iraq must disarm and that the United Nations should remain the forum for overseeing the disarmament, Chirac said.
Blix and the other top U.N. inspector Mohamed ElBaradei also are scheduled to report to the Security Council Feb. 14 on the progress of inspections and Iraq's cooperation. The report will likely play a crucial role in the council's decision on next steps in Iraq.
"There's a report coming out Feb. 14th and I think we should take account of that very carefully," he said.
The two leaders continued to view handling of the Iraq crisis differently but agreed that it was important to focus on the "common points," Blair said.
Blair has been a key backer of the Bush administration's position that time is running out for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to give up weapons of mass destruction and that force may be the only way to disarm him. Britain has sent 35,000 troops to the Persian Gulf to prepare for a possible war.
Chirac, however, has been the lead advocate for a slower approach. He insists the decision on whether to go to war rests with the Security Council -- not the United States.
Blair supports Bush's stance that U.N. backing might not be necessary. But his government has stressed that it would be better to win Security Council support, which means winning over France.
On an interview on France's RTL radio, British Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane said: "As a friend of France, I find it difficult to believe that France won't wind up supporting the authority of the United Nations."
On Monday, Blair told the British parliament that the United Nations could be discredited if it fails to follow through on demands that Saddam disarm.
"Show weakness now and no one will ever believe us when we try to show strength in the future," the British leader said.
Last week, eight European leaders, including Blair, wrote a statement of support for Bush that appeared in newspapers around the world, indirectly reprimanding France and Germany for mounting pressure against U.S. preparations for war. Germany has said flatly it would not participate in any military operation against Iraq.