PARIS – President Jacques Chirac said Thursday the U.S. case against Iraq wasn't enough to change France's anti-war stance. But there were other indications of a shift in Europe toward Washington.
In a subtle change in diplomatic tone, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told Europe-1 radio that Iraq must cooperate immediately with U.N. weapons inspectors -- suggesting that his nation, too, was running out of patience.
Later in the day, however, Chirac issued a statement saying the evidence presented by Secretary of State Colin Powell wasn't enough for France to abandon the pursuit of a diplomatic solution.
"We refuse to think that war is inevitable," Chirac said.
On Wednesday, following Powell's speech to the Security Council, de Villepin told the world body that France would not rule out any option in disarming Baghdad, including the use of force as a last resort. The remark resonated at home to such an extent that the French daily Le Parisien declared Thursday in a front-page headline -- "France: One Step Toward War."
Powell's detailed presentation appeared to do little to win outright support from countries like Russia that have expressed doubts about any urgent need to force Iraq to disarm.
The Bush administration, however, pointed to a statement of support by 10 eastern European nations as evidence that the United States had proven its case.
"The world is increasingly seeing this from the United States' point of view -- that Saddam Hussein must disarm, if he does not disarm a coalition will be assembled to disarm him," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "That's increasingly the point of view of leaders throughout the world."
Also Thursday, NATO stepped up pressure on France, Germany and Belgium to approve a plan to protect Turkey in case of war with Iraq. Luxembourg, which had opposed the plan as a premature gesture toward war, switched sides this week and joined 15 other NATO allies that support the proposal. Turkey, the only NATO member bordering Iraq, had appealed to the alliance for protection against any Iraqi counterstrike.
Turkey made its own preparations for possible conflict Thursday, when its parliament voted to allow U.S. soldiers to renovate Turkish bases for use in an Iraq war.
Turks overwhelmingly oppose a war with Iraq, and the government fears a conflict would bring instability on the border and cause billions of dollars in losses amid the worst recession in decades. But Turkey is reluctant to displease the United States, its most crucial ally.
Among Washington's other staunch allies, the response to Powell's presentation was quick and supportive. Britain called the evidence "powerful" and announced Thursday that it would send more combat aircraft to the Gulf.
Spain, considered a likely member of a coalition should the United States go to war, said Powell's presentation was "compelling." Australia's foreign minister, noting that his country had provided some of the evidence Powell used, said the speech showed a "deeply disturbing pattern of deceit" by Saddam.
Portugal, one of the eight signatories of a letter last week backing the U.S. position, said Iraq's disrespect for the United Nations was "especially serious." In Lisbon, Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso said Iraq faced its "last chance."
Italy also lauded Powell, although leftist opposition members booed Premier Silvio Berlusconi during an address to parliament on Iraq and disrupted his speech by shouting anti-war slogans. The session was briefly halted and a parliament member was expelled.
Critics said Powell's speech failed to make an airtight case for military action against Saddam.
"The dangers of a military action and its consequences are plain to see," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whose country holds the rotating Security Council presidency. "We must continue to seek a peaceful solution to this crisis."
Powell also failed to sway Russia from its support of the need for more inspections.
"The information ... once again convincingly indicates the fact that the activities of the international inspectors in Iraq must be continued," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said that military action against Iraq should be avoided "as long as there still is the slightest hope for a political settlement."
Reaction in the Muslim world ranged from scorn and skepticism to claims that the Powell speech was a prelude to fighting.
Although Iran fought a war with Iraq in 1980-88, and deeply distrusts Saddam, it fears that a U.S.-led conflict could lead to chaos in the region and undermine its economy. It opposes any attack without U.N. approval.
"I think that more time should be given to the [U.N.] inspectors to complete their jobs, and Saddam's regime should be urged more fully to comply with the resolutions," Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in London.