PARIS – In an impassioned appeal Wednesday, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin warned that waging war against Iraq now -- without exhausting all peaceful means for disarming Saddam Hussein -- would split the international community and "be perceived as precipitous and illegitimate."
Addressing a debate on the Iraq crisis in the French parliament, Raffarin said France remains committed to continued and strengthened weapons inspections in Iraq.
"A military intervention today, when all the chances for a peaceful solution have not been explored, would divide the international community," Raffarin said in a speech, which was applauded by lawmakers.
"Let us make no mistake, it would be perceived as precipitous and illegitimate," he said.
Raffarin's remarks come two days after France, Germany and Russia submitted a proposal at the United Nations for step-by-step disarmament of Iraq, part of a European drive to counter U.S. pressure for military action.
France maintains that peaceful disarmament has not been exhausted fully, and that Iraq must be pressed to cooperate.
Raffarin also said France would not support a U.S.-backed draft resolution submitted Monday to the United Nations that would pave the way for war.
"In the current circumstances, a second resolution in the U.N. Security Council has no justification," he said. "That is the reason why we will not support this initiative."
France has not ruled out war if inspectors say they cannot disarm Iraq peacefully. But Raffarin said that moment has not come.
"We think force can only be the last resort," Raffarin said. "But the use of force is not justified in the current circumstances because there is a credible and effective alternative to war: disarming Iraq through inspections."
On Tuesday, French President Jacques Chirac also signaled France's opposition to the draft U.N. resolution submitted Monday by the United States, Britain and Spain.
"We are opposed to all new resolutions," Chirac said.
Since the crisis over Iraq began, France has tried to pressure the United States and its allies to take a softer line. France's main weapon is the veto that it wields as one of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members.
Raffarin did not say whether France would use its veto to block the resolution or whether it would abstain in a vote.
War would "cause a wave of incomprehension and suspicion," Raffarin said. "War would weaken the international coalition against terrorism."
Opposition Communist parliamentary leader, Alain Bocquet, urged the government to veto "any effort that would seek to legitimize ... George Bush's unjustifiable war."