PARIS – President Jacques Chirac showed no sign Sunday of backing down from his opposition to a U.S.-led war in Iraq, saying in a "60 Minutes" interview that France "will naturally go to the end" in refusing to endorse military action.
The interview was conducted before President Bush and his top allies said at an Atlantic island summit that they would make a final push Monday to convince other nations -- notably France -- to back war if Saddam Hussein does not immediately turn over weapons of mass destruction.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking with reporters on his plane en route from the Azores summit back to London, said British diplomats would work through the night trying to persuade France to lift its veto threat of a war resolution at the United Nations.
In the "60 Minutes" interview, Chirac sought to ease the anger sweeping through America over France's refusal to align itself with Washington over Iraq.
"I want to say that France and I have always been friends of the United States," Chirac said in a rare American television interview. But "we will naturally go to the end with our refusal" to endorse military action, he said.
Unless U.N. weapons inspectors reported that they no longer could do their job due to Iraqi interference, France would not support a second U.N. resolution clearing the way for war, he said.
But Chirac did say he was willing to accept a 30-day deadline for Saddam to disarm, provided the deadline was sanctioned by the inspectors -- backing away from a 120-day period outlined in a France-Germany-Russia memorandum submitted to the Security Council.
Vice President Dick Cheney, however, immediately rejected the idea, saying "it's difficult to take the French seriously and believe this is anything other than just further delaying tactics."
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. Its stance is supported by Germany, Russia and China.
The White House called the summit in the Azores islands just after that failure at the Security Council. The council was to meet Monday to discuss the proposal by France, Germany and Russia calling for more time for inspections.
Alluding to White House and congressional frustration over French threats to veto any U.N. resolution opening the way for war, Chirac said France "will not use its right of veto to annoy the United States."
"Simply, we believe there is another way, a more normal way, less dramatic than war" to ensure that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction, he said.
"Important progress has been made (in the inspection process), everyday Iraqi arms are being destroyed."
Chirac denied that his threat to use France's veto had poisoned the disarmament process and handed a victory to Saddam.
"As you might observe, there is not a majority for war in the Security Council," he said. "Therefore, there is no veto problem because there is no majority to start a war."