PARIS – French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Friday that Iraq's decision to begin destroying its Al Samoud 2 missiles confirms U.N. weapons inspections are working.
"France has noted Iraq's decision to destroy the missiles," de Villepin said at a news conference. "It is an important step in the process of the peaceful disarmament of Iraq. It confirms that inspectors are getting results."
De Villepin's comments came hours after Iraq said it will begin destroying its Al Samoud 2 missiles on Saturday, the deadline given by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix.
Iraq said it would comply even though it does not agree with Blix's order, which was issued because the missiles can fly beyond the 150-kilometer (93-mile) limit imposed by the U.N. Security Council at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.
The issue of the Al Samoud missiles has become a litmus test of Iraq's willingness to comply with the weapons inspections. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have threatened war if they don't see Iraq as complying.
French President Jacques Chirac, backed by Russia, China, Germany and other members of the Security Council, is pressing for U.N. inspections to continue. The missile destruction announcement was adopted by Paris as support for its position.
De Villepin made the remarks after a meeting with Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who said he shared France's belief that a stringent program of weapons inspections — not war — was the right way to disarm Iraq.
"We need to support the inspectors and give them the necessary time and means that they need," Papandreou said.
De Villepin said France today "finds itself comforted" by Saddam Hussein's decision to comply with the Blix order, noting that France's position "is shared by the majority of the international community."
"We have all said that inspections cannot continue indefinitely," de Villepin said. "We are speaking today of several months."
De Villepin said France would not comment on its right to use its veto power at the U.N. Security Council, adding that France wants to keep its options open. France remained opposed, he said, to the U.S.-British-Spanish resolution introduced this week that would sanction war against Iraq.