FRANCE - France, one of the harshest critics of the war that brought down Saddam Hussein, stressed it would not commit troops for Iraq despite appeals from the United States and United Nations.
As Iraq Prime Minister Iyad Allawi met in Washington with US President George W. Bush and hailed the war as a success, France poured cold water on any slim hope it might send forces to help ease the post-war chaos.
"As everyone knows, France did not approve of the conditions in which the conflict was unleashed. Neither today nor tomorrow will it commit itself militarily in Iraq," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said.
"In Iraq, violence is exploding. Only when the Iraqis themselves take control of their future ... will the country be able to escape the chaos which could destabilise the entire region," Barnier told the UN General Assembly.
The bitter divisions over the war have re-emerged in the opening days of the two-week annual debate of world leaders at the United Nations, especially after a pointed exchange Tuesday between Bush and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Annan has asked for nations to contribute troops to help protect UN staff who are working to help prepare for elections in Iraq before the end of January -- but no nations have yet committed any forces.
France helped lead opposition to the war on the UN Security Council last year, ensuring that Washington did not get the council's blessing for the invasion.
But the council's inability to find consensus, much less prevent the United States from going ahead with the "pre-emptive" war, convinced Annan that the UN system was in need of sweeping reform.
He appointed a high-level panel due to report on December with proposals for change, including possibly expanding the 15-nation council.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whose nation has launched a joint bid with Brazil, India and Japan for permanent seats on an expanded council, said on Thursday that reform was essential.
"If we really want its decisions to be accepted as legitimate and effectively implemented, we have to reform the council," Fischer said.
"The reasons behind such a move speak for themselves. A council with more members would enjoy greater acceptance internationally as a basis for greater authority," he said.
The council has had the same five permanent members with veto power -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- since the United Nations was established in the wake of World War II.
Ten other nations are elected as non-permanent members for two-year terms each.
"For 40 years, the composition of the Security Council has remained unchanged," Fischer said. "It is high time to adapt it to the new global reality. Half-baked or interim solutions are neither necessary nor helpful."
That appeared to be a reference to reports that the high-level panel could be considering a remodeled, three-tier council with five-year "semi-permanent" members -- which would deny Berlin a permanent seat.
The joint German bid, which Barnier said France supports, also calls for a permanent spot for an African nation, but Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said Africa should have two permanent seats.
"The world, now more than ever, needs a strong United Nations with reinforced legitimacy," he told the assembly.
Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned that terrorist networks were proving more adept at working together than the members of the international community they target.
Highlighting what he described as a "democracy deficit" within the United Nations, Singh told world leaders at the UN General Assembly that the global war on terror lacked "substance and credibility."
"We speak about cooperation, but seem hesitant to commit ourselves to a global offensive to root out terrorism, with the pooling of resources, exchange of information (and) sharing of intelligence," Singh said.
"It is a sad reality that international networks of terror appear to cooperate more effectively among themselves than the democratic nations that they target," he added.
Pushing India's bid for a permanent Security Council seat, Singh said reform of the United Nations' top-decision making body was crucial to refashioning a new multilateral order capable of taking on the global challenges of the 21st century.
India's credentials rest on its status as the world's largest democracy and as a vocal advocate for the problems facing developing nations.
"It is common knowledge that the UN is often unable to exert and effective influence on global economic and political issues of critical importance," Singh said.
"This is due to it's democracy deficit, which prevents effective multilateralism.
"The expansion of the Security Council ... and the inclusion of countries like India as permanent members, would be a first step in the process of making the UN a truly representative body," he said.
While acknowledging the importance of defeating terrorism, Singh warned of the dangers of ignoring hunger and poverty eradication.
"Development must return to the center of global discourse," he said, noting that UN members had already "fallen behind" in implementing the ambitious programmes envisaged by the Millennium Summit four years ago.
Singh made only a brief reference to India's bitter dispute with Pakistan over the region of Kashmir, reaffirming his government's determination to pursue peace talks to a "purposeful and mutually acceptable conclusion."
© 2004 AFP