France to Push for Emergency Summit

President Jacques Chirac is lobbying other heads of state to join him at an emergency summit of U.N. Security Council members to search for compromise on Iraq, his office said Saturday.

The Elysee presidential palace also reiterated France's objection to a U.S.-British draft resolution giving Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein a March 17 ultimatum to destroy weapons of mass destruction or prove he has none.

"The ultimatum resolution is not acceptable and therefore will not be accepted by France," the president's office said.

On Friday at the Security Council in New York, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin rejected the idea of a deadline and unveiled his own plan: a summit at the council to let leaders of the 15-nation body work through the tense debate over Iraq's disarmament.

Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissed the French idea, saying he saw no need for such a summit when key powers have been expressing their views "openly and candidly."

France, however, remains committed to the idea.

In a flurry of behind-the-scenes lobbying, Chirac has consulted certain heads of state to push for a summit and plans to consult others over the next few days, his office said Saturday.

Chirac has so far received a positive response regarding the proposed summit, his office said, without elaborating or mentioning which leaders Chirac had communicated with.

"War is not a small thing," the president's office said. "When you declare death or life, this merits being taken to the highest level of responsibility, (where leaders could) think through crisis management."

Despite intense lobbying, the United States and Britain have been unable to line up with certainty the nine votes required from the 15-member Security Council to adopt a resolution approving war.

France, Russia and China — who all have veto power — rejected the ultimatum, put forward by Britain after chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei gave largely upbeat assessments of Iraq's cooperation with the inspectors.

De Villepin was to take France's anti-war campaign to Africa to meet with leaders of Angola, Cameroon and Guinea — all non-permanent members of the Security Council, the Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

The foreign minister was scheduled to leave Paris late Sunday and return Tuesday after his three-nation tour. Angola, Cameroon and Guinea are all considered swing votes in the debate on how to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

All three countries supported France's anti-war stance in a pan-African declaration at last month's Franco-African summit in Paris. The declaration urged the reinforcement of weapons inspections in Iraq as an alternative to war.

It was unclear whether that meant the African council members, all of whom hold non-permanent seats, would vote against the U.S. resolution.

France has led opposition to a rush to war, saying inspections are working, albeit slowly, and weapons experts need more time to do their job.

De Villepin told the Security Council at the meeting in New York that France would not accept the compliance deadline, and he repeated implicit threats to veto the U.S.-British plan.

"We cannot accept an ultimatum as long as the inspectors are reporting cooperation," de Villepin said.

He said a deadline would be "a pretext for war."

"France will not allow a resolution to pass that authorizes the automatic use of force," he said.