French President Jacques Chirac has unleashed a torrent of criticism against the US-led war in Iraq, saying the conflict, which he fiercely opposed, had boosted the spread of terrorism.
In a wide-ranging New Year's foreign policy speech Friday, Chirac fired a broadside at what he called Washington's "adventure" in the Middle Eastern country, torn by sectarian strife almost four years after the invasion.
"As France had foreseen and feared, the war in Iraq has sparked upheavals that have yet to show their full effects," Chirac told the French diplomatic corps gathered in Paris.
He said the conflict, which the United States still describes as part of the "war on terror" it launched in 2001 following the September 11 attacks, had "offered terrorism a new field for expansion."\
Chirac said it had "exacerbated the divisions between communities and threatened the very integrity of Iraq". "It undermined the stability of the entire region, where every country now fears for its security and its independence."
As US President George W. Bush prepares next week to announce a major overhaul in Washington's military strategy in Iraq, Chirac said "the priority, more than ever, is to restore full sovereignty to the Iraqi people."
Although Chirac, at 74, is thought deeply unlikely to stand for a third term in France's presidential elections in April, he has delivered a string of combative New Year's speeches to defend his 12-year legacy and fight off suggestions he is a "lame-duck" president.
The French leader attacked the "pitfalls of unilateralism" in foreign affairs -- a scarcely veiled reference to Washington's decision to launch the Iraq war without United Nations backing.
Chirac said France looked forward to the emergence of a "multipolar" world, as China, India and Brazil take on "the status of global powers", with influence shared between the the old and new giants.
He predicted their "rise will mark the end of the centuries long, undivided Western domination of the world", and hopefully address the "persistence of extreme poverty in a world growing ever richer" -- "a moral scandal as much as an economic absurdity and a major political threat."
Speaking of the broader tensions gripping the Middle East, Chirac made a fresh appeal to Tehran in the standoff over its nuclear programme.
Iran "is feeding the world's apprehension through its proliferation activities and the unacceptable and provocative statements of some of its leaders."
"It is up to it to restore trust through a sovereign gesture," he said, urging Iran to suspend uranium enrichment-related activities and resume talks with the international community.
The UN Security Council voted unanimously on December 23 to impose sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend activites which it fears are a cover for nuclear weapons development.
Chirac also renewed a call for an international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, that would "provide the security guarantees sought by both parties, without dictating the terms of a settlement."
"What still lacks is trust. It is up to the international community to kickstart the process that will allow the restoration of trust."
The French president -- who spoke Thursday with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to organise details of a January 25 Paris aid conference for the war-wracked country -- appealed to the Lebanese people to rally behind the premier and "build their future regardless of outside interference".
Siniora's authority is contested by the Lebanese opposition loyal to Syria, which was the powerbroker in its smaller neighbour for decades until its troops left the country in 2005.
Copyright © 2007 AFP