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Key European Allies Remain Unconvinced by Powell Case

By Keith B. Richburg

France and other key U.S. allies declared Thursday that Secretary of State Colin Powell had not made a compelling case for an early armed strike against Iraq in his presentation to the United Nations Security Council Wednesday. France immediately began a diplomatic campaign to shore up opposition to going to war soon.

“There is no change in the French position, no change at all,” said Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, whose country has been one of the most forceful voices for giving U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq more time to work.

French President Jacques Chirac spoke by telephone Thursday with counterparts at other Security Council countries, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Vicente Fox of Mexico, Ricardo Lagos of Chile, Paul Biya of Cameroon and Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

He told them that France refuses to accept that war is inevitable and that this view is widely shared in the world, according to spokeswoman Catherine Colanna, news services reported. He and Putin agreed that their governments would continue to work for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. France has not ruled out supporting a war but argues that peaceful have not been exhausted.

Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, said it was premature to discuss a new Security Council resolution authorizing a strike. “A second resolution? We are not at the time for that right now,” de Villepin told Europe 1 radio in an interview. France holds a veto in the Security Council.

In other countries that are generally friendly to the United States, people expressed skepticism that Powell had provided proof justifying war. “If Americans know so much, why do they produce so little?” asked Vladimir Lukin, a top Russian legislator and former ambassador to the United States.

France and Germany lead European opposition to a speedy attack. But the United States has many governments on its side there: Britain, Italy, Spain, Denmark and Portugal, as well as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have firmly backed the U.S. position. On Wednesday, 10 more European governments, in the former communist east, jointly declared support for Washington. They were Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

In the Americas, the United States’ immediate neighbors Canada and Mexico also signalled that positions remained unchanged.

After Powell’s presentation, Canadian foreign minister Bill Graham called it “disturbing and persuasive” but said Canada favored more time for the inspectors.

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez, who watched Powell from Mexico’s seat on the Security Council, said his country’s preference for a nonmilitary solution had not changed. “Secretary Powell’s presentation strengthens Mexico’s conviction about the necessity to advance toward an effective and verifiable disarmament,” he said in a statement. But, Mexico still believes the “ideal way” to disarm Iraq is more inspections.

About 86 percent of 32,000 people who participated in a telephone poll Wednesday night on Mexico’s television news show, El Noticiero, answered “no” to the question, “Should Mexico support a U.S. military attack against Iraq?”