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France, Russia and Germany : No Justification for War

France, Russia and Germany : No Justification for War

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PARIS (AP) -- France, Russia and Germany issued a joint declaration Saturday saying there was no justification for a war on Iraq and calling for a meeting of foreign ministers at the U.N. Security Council to set a "realistic" timetable for Saddam Hussein to disarm.

France's foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, said his country would accept a "tight timetable" for Iraqi disarmament -- but not an ultimatum that would automatically lead to war if missed. But he said war appears increasingly inevitable.

"It is difficult to imagine what could stop this machine," he told France 2 television, before adding "one does not have the right to be discouraged."

France, Russia and Germany have led opposition to military action against Iraq and blocked a U.S. attempt to set a deadline for Saddam to disarm or face war.

With some 250,000 U.S. and British troops in the Persian Gulf ready to attack Iraq, President Bush meets with prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain -- his top proponents of military action against Saddam -- on Sunday in the Azores islands to plan their next step in the standoff.

The joint declaration called for Security Council foreign ministers to meet on Tuesday to focus on "disarmament priorities and draw up a strict and realistic timetable" to certify Iraq free of alleged weapons of mass destruction. Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is to present his latest report on Iraqi disarmament on Monday.

"We reaffirm that nothing justifies in the present circumstances putting a stop to the inspection process and resorting to the use of force," said the declaration, issued by the Foreign Ministry in Paris. "The use of force can only be a last resort."

The three nations said previous reports by Blix and the chief nuclear inspector, Mohamed El Baradei, indicated that inspections were producing results. "The disarmament of Iraq has started," the declaration said. "Everything indicates that it can be completed quickly."

The declaration was agreed upon Saturday by the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Russia, a German foreign ministry spokeswoman said. The three were in telephone contact with one another, she said.

In his report Monday, Blix is to lay out his plans for upcoming inspections, and he is expected to present the U.N. Security Council with his list of top priority questions that Iraq must answer about its chemical, biological and missile programs as early as Tuesday.

In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov told the Interfax news agency that the report should outline "the key remaining tasks in the area of disarmament," criteria that could be used to assess Iraq's cooperation with inspectors in the future.

He said the inspections "should not have a limitless character" and pointed to the 120-day period outlined in a joint Russian-French-German memorandum submitted earlier to the Security Council.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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