PARIS – French President Jacques Chirac said Sunday he was willing to accept a 30-day deadline for Iraq to disarm, provided the move was endorsed by the chief U.N. weapons inspectors.
Chirac made the offer just hours before President Bush and his top allies backing war, Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, held an emergency summit in the Azores islands.
"One month, two months, I am ready to accept any accord on this point that has the approval of the inspectors," Chirac said in an interview, according to extracts released by the president's office. The full CBS "60 minutes" interview was scheduled for broadcast Sunday night, Chirac's office said, and parts of it were aired by CNN.
Asked specifically whether he would accept a 30-day deadline, Chirac said "everything the inspectors propose should be accepted."
France has staunchly opposed any deadline for Iraq that would include an automatic trigger for war, and last week it helped stymie a U.S-led resolution for such an ultimatum. The White House called the Azores summit just after that failure at the Security Council.
Vice President Dick Cheney rejected the proposal, saying it was "difficult to take the French serious and believe that this is anything other than just further delaying tactics."
He enumerated what he called a series of French roadblocks on Iraq disarmament: "the French have consistently, in 1995, for example, refused to find him in material breach. In '96, refused to criticize Saddam Hussein for what he was doing to the Kurds. In '97, refused to block the travel of Iraqi intelligence officers. In '98, declared Saddam was free of all weapons of mass destruction. In '99, refused to support UNMOVIC, the very institution now they want to entrust this important responsibility to."
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday he was not exactly sure what Chirac was proposing but that acceptance of a 30-day deadline did not seem like "that big a concession."
Asked on ABC's "This Week" show whether such a deadline was acceptable to the United States, Powell said, "We have had timelines, we have had deadlines, we have had benchmarks. The problem is, Iraq is not complying."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Sunday refused to support Chirac's proposal, saying that U.N. weapons inspectors should be given all the time they want to disarm Iraq peacefully.
With his comments, Chirac backed away from a 120-day period outlined in a joint Russian-French-German memorandum submitted earlier to the Security Counci. On Saturday, Russia and Germany issued a fresh declaration rejecting war and calling for the Security Council to set a timetable for Saddam to disarm.
Meanwhile, the French defense minister said that while France won't participate in any unilateral war against Iraq, it will play a role in postwar peace-building in the country.
"Peace cannot be made except with the international community, and understandably in such a case, France will assume its role and all its responsibilities," Michele Alliot-Marie told reporters Sunday in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.
"After the war, we will see what are the needs," she said.
Alliot-Marie said she was traveling to Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia -- which have been supportive of the hard-line U.S. position on Iraq -- with a message of solidarity and friendship from Chirac, as well as to reaffirm military cooperation agreements.
In the comments made public Sunday, Chirac reiterated his view that inspections were producing results.
"Important progress has been made, every day Iraqi arms are being destroyed," he said. "The inspectors believe, and they will say so next Tuesday, that there is a possibility of reaching the objective (of disarming Iraq) without a war."
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, are expected to deliver their latest report to the Security Council this week.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said proposals at the United Nations to speed up the peaceful disarmament of Iraq were being stonewalled by the U.S. military's inflexible timetable for an invasion of Iraq.
In an interview published Sunday in weekly Journal du Dimanche, de Villepin said he hoped the Azores summit will not "give way to a logic of war."
He said proposals such as the one put forward by Chile to give Baghdad three weeks to come clean on its illegal weapons programs "come up against the acceleration of the (U.S.) military timetable."
De Villepin was alluding to the clear preference of U.S. military commanders not to send the 250,000 U.S. and British troops massed around Iraq into battle during the stifling summer heat and choking sandstorms.