LONDON (March 13) - The dispute between Britain and France over disarming Saddam Hussein exploded into open hostility Thursday, as furious British officials accused the French of all but ensuring there will be a war.
In shockingly blunt language for allies, British officials assailed their French counterparts for blocking efforts to set a deadline for Iraq to disarm. Britain accused France of rejecting its proposal without considering it.
``What I find extraordinary (is) that without even proper consideration the French government have decided that they will reject these proposals,'' said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
Iain Duncan Smith, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, emerged from a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair to say war appeared likely because of France.
``He (Blair) made the reason for this as the fact that the French have become completely intransigent,'' he told journalists.
The attacks reflected Britain's anger with what it sees as a cynical French ploy aimed at creating a French-led counterweight to the United States in world affairs.
British officials contend privately that French President Jacque Chirac is also intent on preserving traditional lucrative commercial ties with Iraq, which he helped build in the 1970s.
The French deny it. They say their aim is peace, and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin insisted Thursday that Paris wanted to work for consensus in the Security Council.
``Everything should be done to preserve the unity of the council, and that is what we are working toward,'' he said.
British officials were angry after de Villepin rejected a British proposal for a U.N. resolution outlining steps Saddam would have to follow to prove he was scrapping his weapons of mass destruction. Paris says Iraq can be disarmed peacefully and claims Britain and the United States just want a new U.N. resolution to launch a war.
``We cannot accept the British proposals insofar as they are part of a logic of war, a logic of automatic recourse to war,'' de Villepin said.
Britain, which is deeply divided over war with Iraq, appeared relieved to turn to bashing its traditional European rival. Anglo-French enmity stretches back centuries and belittling the French is a passionate British pastime, fully reciprocated by many French.
British newspapers joined in the attack Thursday, blasting the French as untrustworthy and selfish.
The Sun tabloid attacked France with a front-page headline saying, ``Blair Buries Le Worm,'' its nickname for Chirac.
Some British officials predicted privately that public anger at the French could boost support for Blair, who faces strong opposition inside his Labor Party over his determination to back the United States even if it means attacking Iraq without U.N. approval. Most Britons don't want a war without U.N. approval, polls show.
Blair was increasingly resigned to war, said officials, although diplomatic efforts would continue for a few more days. The White House said Thursday it might agree to a brief delay of a U.N. vote to help secure an agreement.
The British anger with France is reflected in Washington, where U.S. officials have said Paris' threat to use its veto no matter what had sent the wrong message to Saddam.
British frustration and anger with France has been building for weeks.
Straw, normally noted for quiet courtesy, seemed to mock his French counterpart during a recent U.N. Security Council debate, ironically referring to him as ``my friend Dominique'' as de Villepin scowled.
03/13/03 14:44 EST
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