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France, Russia withhold support to US

United Nations, Oct. 18 (Reuters): France and Russia withheld immediate public backing today for a US compromise on using the threat of war against Iraq, but a month-long deadlock at the United Nations seemed closer to resolution.

France, which like Russia is among the five veto-wielding powers in the UN Security Council, has signalled it favours a modified US draft resolution removing explicit authorisation of force to make Iraq disarm.

But it has not yet given open support, diplomats said.

French President Jacques Chirac, whose country led opposition to an earlier, more toughly worded U.S. draft, insisted again on Friday that the military option had to be a last resort and warned against“temptations of adventure”.

”In the modern world, the use of force should only be a last resort,” he told a summit of French-speaking nations in Beirut.

Diplomats said negotiations between Paris and Washington were continuing on how best to deal with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and what Washington says are his weapons of mass destruction.

“It is not completely settled yet between Washington and Paris,” one envoy close to the negotiations said. Chirac has yet to review the new US proposal.

Russia was said to be considering trying to add some proposals of its own at the UN debate on Iraq, and foreign minister Igor Ivanov stressed that the priority was for UN weapons inspectors to return to Iraq after a four-year break. “We hope the UN Security Council will very soon be able to work out a resolution to allow for the strengthening of the inspectors' mandate and let them leave immediately for Iraq,” he said.

“If it is decided that tougher measures are needed, including the use of force, then only the Security Council can take such a decision.”

This would tie in with France’s proposal for two resolutions, with only the second authorising force if Iraq failed to cooperate with weapons inspections. Washington wants a single resolution. Among the five veto-holding Security Council members — United States, Russia, France, Britain and China — the United States and Britain had been in intense negotiations with the others to win backing for a tough new resolution on Iraq. But France and Russia resisted and China also expressed scepticism, leading Washington to modify its draft resolution.

British foreign secretary Jack Straw said today Britain and the US were committed to tackling Iraq via the UN, but only if it produced results.

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