WASHINGTON – France denied Tuesday that it helped convince Saddam Hussein the United States would not invade Iraq in March.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous dismissed as "completely unfounded" the claims reportedly made by former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz (search) during interrogations by U.S. officials.
Aziz, who surrendered in April, told interrogators that Saddam may have been convinced by his Russian and French contacts that diplomatic actions in the United Nations would forestall a U.S. invasion.
The comments by Aziz first appeared Monday in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal and were later confirmed by a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity.
"There was no French emissary commissioned to go to Iraq to meet Saddam Hussein carrying any kind of assurances," Ladsous said, adding that France repeatedly called on Iraqi authorities to respect international obligations as the only way to avoid a crisis.
Similar "rumors" circulated before the March invasion and Paris "systematically denied" them, Ladsous said.
France, which joined Russia in leading opposition to the war in Iraq, argued that U.N. inspectors needed more time to uncover Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. France, a permanent Security Council member, stood in the way of an American proposal to win U.N. authorization for military action by threatening to veto the measure.