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Chirac: 'A lot of progress has been achieved'

CNN's Christiane Amanpour and French President Jacques Chirac.
CNN's Christiane Amanpour and French President Jacques Chirac.

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(CNN) -- As the world teeters on the brink of war between the United States and its allies and Iraq, one staunch voice opposing military action has been that of French President Jacques Chirac.

In the face of intense U.S. pressure, he has threatened to veto any resolution in the U.N. Security Council that would authorize the use of force to disarm Iraq until, in his view, all other options have been exhausted.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour conducted an exclusive interview with Chirac for CNN and CBS's 60 Minutes. Here is the full transcript:

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: First, thank you very much indeed for joining us. I want to ask you first ... there is a summit going ahead on the Azores between the United States, Britain and Spain. Do you think now [that] war is inevitable?

CHIRAC: I hope it isn't. I hope that this summit that brings together President Bush, [Spanish] Prime Minister [Jose Maria] Aznar, and [British] Prime Minister [Tony] Blair... I hope that it can be serene in its atmosphere. And I hope that it will not ignore the sentiments of the majority of the nations across the world, countries that are hoping that inspections will work, especially as they are working.

AMANPOUR: What do you realistically think will come out of this summit?

CHIRAC: I can't [predict] the result of the summit. I hope that reason will prevail and that this effective system, the system that is bringing us to the common goal that we have, i.e. disarmament of Iraq; the elimination and destruction of the weapons of mass destruction ... I hope that all this can be done through inspections. Indeed, inspections have proven their effectiveness to reach this goal.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President, what is your bottom-line compromise? You haven't yet articulated [it], but you've said you would be willing to offer a compromise. What is your compromise to reunite the Security Council and to go ahead as a united Security Council? How many days would you be willing to grant inspections?

CHIRAC: Well, I am not the one to say. The inspectors themselves have to tell us. But I have noticed a few things. First of all, that the Security Council was unanimous and I repeat, unanimous; and it is noteworthy, especially on such an important issue the Security Council was unanimous in adopting Security Council [Resolution] 1441, and through the resolution decided to disarm Iraq through peaceful means, through inspections, for as long as the inspectors will tell us that that is feasible. That is the first point I wanted to make.

We have also noticed, in listening to and reading the inspectors' reports, that a lot of progress has been achieved, that weapons are being destroyed every day. Of course, we haven't reached the full goal yet, but the inspectors are telling us -- and they will say that again on Tuesday [in their report to the Security Council], I am sure that we are within reach of our goal, and that we can do that without war. That is precisely my goal, my objective.

I am ready to accept any practical modalities that the inspectors will suggest in that respect, especially as for deadlines. The inspectors, I will remind you, have told us that it wasn't a question of years, it wasn't really either a question of days, but it was a question of months. Are we talking one, two months? I don't know. But we are ready, I am ready, to find an agreement on these issues if it has the endorsement of the inspectors.

AMANPOUR: So you are saying you would be prepared to do a 30-day or a 60-day deadline?

CHIRAC: Whatever the inspectors propose and suggest in that respect will be accepted. It has to be accepted, I think. We have given the inspectors a mission, and we have a moral obligation, and a political one, to follow their advice or else to explain why we are not following them. But if we don't follow their advice, then only the Security Council can decide not to.

That is precisely why Germany, Russia, France said yesterday, and China supported us today, that after the report the inspectors will be giving on Tuesday, and they will be outlining their work program and the possible speeding up of the work program, which, incidentally, will increase the pressure on Iraq. So as I said, we suggested that as soon as the report has been given on the program and the deadlines that there should be a meeting of the Security Council at ministerial level, either to approve or modify, or reject even, if need be, the report. But I suppose approving it or modifying it would be more likely. But again, the goal is a common goal. A goal shared by all members of the Security Council, all 15 of us. And it is indeed the goal of the international community as a whole. We have to disarm Iraq.

We can't just leave that Iraqi dictator in a position where he can hold weapons that he could use, and we don't know what he could use. Or rather we have too clear an understanding of what he might do with them. That is clear, I think. But we have to do that in the most reasonable conditions, the most normal conditions, and I think today, as I have said, we have to go through with inspections.

AMANPOUR: You have said that inspections were working in great part because of the massive U.S. and British force that is arrayed outside Saddam Hussein's doorstep. Wouldn't it be even more effective if France had sent troops also to double and triple the threat?

CHIRAC: I have said already, and I am very sure of what I am saying, I have said that it is indeed thanks to the pressure of British and American troops that the Iraqi authorities and Saddam Hussein himself have changed, have shifted their position and have had to agree to cooperate with the inspectors. First of all they were not too cooperative, but you have increased their level of cooperation, as the inspectors themselves have told us. So I would say that the Americans have already won. They have won, and they haven't even shot one bullet. Without their presence on the ground, of course it is very likely that nothing would have changed and that we wouldn't have been in a position to reach our goal of disarming, through inspections, Iraq, and finding and destroying these weapons.

So indeed, I feel that the Americans have had a very important role to play, and we should acknowledge that and be thankful for exercising that effective pressure. Now, that doesn't mean that we have to wage war if it isn't necessary. And as I said, I don't think that it is necessary.

AMANPOUR: And yet the inspectors have said yes, things are going much better than they had in the past, but it's not perfect and active cooperation from Saddam Hussein. Wouldn't it have been a much more serious signal had France also sent troops to keep that pressure on?

CHIRAC: France, from the very beginning, had agreed to a process that we felt could be successful, the process outlined by Resolution 1441. There wasn't the hypothesis of war in that resolution. France has stuck to its logic, to its understanding of things, and that was to say that we could achieve disarmament of Iraq through inspectors and through inspections. That is why we now hold the position we hold. That is also why we are also refusing today, in the current circumstances, the prospect of war. And we will go to the full consequences of our understanding. We feel indeed that there is another option, through inspections.

Now, if the inspectors were to [say]: "Look, it's not working. Not enough cooperation. There's no way in which we can scrutinize and monitor and inspect. It's just not working..." Now, if Saddam Hussein were to do something that he has already shown that he was able to do, for instance, taking a preposterous initiative, one of these wonderful initiatives he has the secret of, then of course France would change its position. If we were to see that our strategy, inspections, was failing, we would consider all the options, including war. But it isn't the case and it isn't the situation today. I think we can today still play one card, the card of peace, and it always is the most reasonable card to play.

AMANPOUR: Britain and the United States have accused France of poisoning the process by saying that you would use your veto under any circumstances. Even in Iraq, newspapers loyal to Saddam Hussein are hailing, are praising, the division in the world community, calling it a great victory for Saddam Hussein. Do you not think that your repeated vow to veto has emboldened Saddam Hussein?

CHIRAC: I don't not think so, no. It really isn't a topical issue. It isn't a question in the news, really. You will notice that there isn't today a majority in the Security Council supporting. There just isn't one. So veto isn't an issue, because there is no majority to start war.

Of course it is obvious that France has convictions and beliefs, that we feel war is always the worst solution. It can only be used if there is no other option. And we are true to our principles. We are not refusing or rejecting war outright. If we have to wage war... we are not pacifists. We are not anti-American either. We are not just going to use our veto to nag and annoy the U.S.. But we just feel that there is another option, another way, another more normal way, a less dramatic way than acting, than war, and that we have to go through that path. Until we realize that we have come to a dead end, but that isn't the case.

AMANPOUR: And what is, for you, a dead end? I would like to know what your "red line" is.

CHIRAC: Our red line is the inspector's report. For as long that the inspectors are telling us that there is cooperation, that it can be improved but that there is sufficient cooperation and that they can go on securing the disarmament of Iraq, that it isn't a question of years but a question of a couple of months ... for as long as the inspectors go on telling us that, there is no reason why we should change.

AMANPOUR: So why is it that you have been unable to reach a compromise with the United States and Britain and Spain, let's say, to say, "Let's talk about what the inspectors have said a month, two months, three months and come to an agreement?" rather than see this Security Council completely divided and chaos on the world stage now?

CHIRAC: Well, I do hope that we can have that discussion, that debate. We are ready to do so. I even suggested that there be a summit meeting of the Security Council with heads of state and government so that we can discuss and debate these issues without difficulties to see what we can do, what is in the interest of security, of peace. What is the in the interest of the common ideals and actions we need, the fight against terrorism, the fight against proliferation. See what our common interest is.

But you will no doubt have noticed that my proposal to discuss these issues in serenity was made clearly, especially as it was done on the basis of a unanimous Security Council resolution. But nobody has taken up my proposal. And I do hope, to answer your previous question, I do hope that in the Azores the three heads of state and government that seem to lean toward war will bear in mind the unanimity of the Security Council.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction; for instance, chemical or biological weapons?

CHIRAC: Well, I don't know. I have no evidence to support that. But what we can say today, listening to what [International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed] ElBaradei is saying and his expert team, it seems that there are no nuclear weapons or no nuclear programs that would lead to the construction of nuclear weapons. That is something that the inspectors seem to be sure of.

As for weapons of mass destruction, bacteriological, biological, chemical, we don't know. And that is precisely what the inspectors' mandate is all about. They have to go with their work to find these weapon if there are any and then destroy them. And the inspectors are telling us that they can do that work. So when at one point or another they tell us that they can't or can't anymore go on doing so, then we will have to consider other options, including war. But it just isn't the case today.

So rushing into war, rushing into battle today is clearly disproportionate and inadequate given our goals. As I said, that goal is to disarm Iraq, and everybody agrees on that.

AMANPOUR: The fact is, Mr. President, that in America many people think it's just because you are a friend, a pal of Saddam Hussein. That you have had long contacts with him, that you help build the nuclear reactor there, that there are the oil deals. You invited Saddam Hussein to France. There is a famous picture of you toasting him. They think it is about a personal and a business relationship.

CHIRAC: (laughter) That's myth, so to speak. Or controversy, if you will. I did indeed meet President Saddam Hussein when he was vice president in 1974 and '75, or '75 and '76. Never since. But in those days everybody had excellent relations with Saddam Hussein and with the Baath party. In those days it was seen as a modern party. Everybody had contacts with them.

I have not had any contacts ever since, and that is not something that everybody can say. Some important figures of the current U.S. administration had contacts with Saddam Hussein as late as 1983. I haven't. So we should not delve into controversy.

As for our interests, let us be clear about it. The trade of France with Iraq accounts for 0.2 percent of total French trade. So basically we have no economic interests in Iraq. Iraq isn't even in the list of the 60 largest trading partners of France. Not even the 60 largest.

As for oil import, they only account for 8 percent of Iraqi exports. The U.S. is importing five or six times more Iraqi petrol and Iraqi oil than we are importing. So these alleged motivations are clearly not serious motivations.

AMANPOUR: There have also been persistent allegations that Saddam Hussein put money into one of your electoral campaigns. How do you respond to that?

CHIRAC: (laughter) It's preposterous, really ... Anything can be said about anyone. As we say in French, "The larger it is, the more likely people will believe in it." I think really that is what we are talking about.

AMANPOUR: The New York Times has reported that there is evidence that French companies [are involved] in transferring materials for use in long-range Iraqi missiles. Are you aware of any French companies being involved in such an effort, and if so, what would you do to them?

CHIRAC: The New York Times is a serious newspaper, so as soon as I read this I led an inquiry into it. I will confirm the official statement, as published after this inquiry by the French foreign ministry. France and French companies have never endorsed or even provided such material to Iraq. So I am clearly dispelling this allegation. This too is insecure information. Or again, maybe controversial.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you again about the nuclear reactor [built by Iraq with French assistance and destroyed in an Israeli air raid in 1981] at Osirak? You know, a lot of people called it "Os-Chirac", as you know. In retrospect, do you regret that it was destroyed, given that it could have been used to form nuclear weapons?

CHIRAC: Well, this reactor was a civilian reactor. It was a civilian power plant and it was only going to produce energy. I don't think it could have been the link or the basis for nuclear technology or a military nuclear program. This being said, events such as we know them, it was destroyed, so the issue is no longer.

But in those days, all of the major democracies, all of them, each and every one of them, had contacts and trade and exchanges with Iraq, including on weapons. Even weapons of mass destruction sometimes, including bacteriological, biological weapons.

So we shouldn't come back to the past on these issues. But we shouldn't either pinpoint France or point the finger toward France, that had limited its actions to helping Iraq to produce the energy it needed to light the country.

AMANPOUR: Which countries are you specifically talking about?

CHIRAC: All the major democracies. Each and every one of them.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President, you know that since you have taken the position you have there has been a massive backlash in the United States at almost every level of society. From the leader of the House of Representatives, who is talking about initiating sanctions against France in some form or another, to restaurants in the Congress which have renamed their frites. Their french fries are now being called "freedom fries." People feel ... they are asking, "What happened to our friendship? Does France remember who liberated them? Why is France betraying us?"

CHIRAC: Two things: First of all, we shouldn't think that some excesses, either in the media or in the political world, are the same as facts on the ground. We have not noticed any kind of bad will from U.S. consumers vis-a-vis French products.

I really do think that, apart from the froth we can see for the moment, the Americans know that deep down, and they know it well, that the French, even before the 19th century, that the French have always been their friends. Always. Whenever there were difficult circumstances the French were side-by-side with the Americans.

The French don't either forget what was done in both world wars by the Americans. It is really in their minds and also deep down in their hearts. I think that the relationship between the French and the Americans, the human relationship, is a relationship of friendship. Of love even, I would say.

So really, it isn't going to change because of the current events, because it is so deeply felt by our peoples. It is a common understanding of man, the freedom of democracy, of esteem, and of acknowledgement for one another also.

So in this respect, I am not worried. I have regular contacts with many Americans, and I haven't felt, despite the intensity of the media campaign, I have not felt in them a rift or a breach in this feeling of friendship between our two countries.

I don't think either that France or Europe are calling into question an essential basis of our multiplied world of tomorrow, the trans-Atlantic link. We are all deeply committed to this trans-Atlantic relationship. It is all the more important in our view because it clearly fits into our understanding of tomorrow's world, a multi-poled world.

So really there is nothing that should bring us to confront one another, culturally, politically or in our understanding of the world. There is one specific issue on which we disagree and on which the American administration had to be very forceful and firm, and we just feel that it is going too far.

When there are people that I am just not interested in, I won't really worry. But if there is a friend or somebody I dearly love, and if you see that they are going down the wrong path, and if you feel, at least, that that is the case, then friendship demands that we tell that friend, that we warn him.

I have some experience on the international political stage, and I am telling my American friends: beware. Be careful. Think it over seriously before you make an act that is not necessary and that can be very dangerous, especially in the fight against international terrorism that we are really working hard on together.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President, you talk about friendship. You talk about a relationship almost based on love. Yet some of your own commentators here are saying that this story has entered the realm of psychodrama of divorce. They say that you feel that you can challenge the United States at no cost, even when [Secretary of State Colin] Powell is saying that the threat of a veto is an unfriendly, even hostile, act, and that it could have serious consequences, long-term consequences for your relations. Do you accept that it is a potential problem for the future, and what do you think you can do to repair the damage?

CHIRAC: I do not think it will be really an issue in the future. As you have rightly pointed out in citing other sources, it indeed a psychodrama. And psychodrama is all about theatre and drama. It is very superficial. It isn't deep-rooted. And I have said, for all the reasons I mentioned earlier, the relationship between both our countries will not really be affected by all these knee-jerk reactions. So I am not worried.

AMANPOUR: If war starts, if diplomacy totally collapses, what will your posture be? What will France's posture be then? Will you wish British and U.S. troops speedy victory?

CHIRAC: Of course. Of course. The speedier the victory, the smaller the damage is, both human damages and material damages. So of course we wish for speed of victory. But what I hope for is a comprehensive victory, and hope that that can be secured without firing one shot. And I think we can do that. We can do that through inspectors, because inspections are working. Inspections can bring about the victory; that is to say the completely elimination of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq without firing one shot and using war.

AMANPOUR: What material support will France give to this war, if it happens, to the United States and Britain?

CHIRAC: I can't tell yet. I don't know what Britain or the U.S. might ask of us. For the moment the U.S. have only asked for authorization to fly over the French territory. That is something that I have indeed granted, because we are friends and allies, as I have said. Even though we disagree and I disapprove of seriously disapprove of war today.

AMANPOUR: If it should come to a point where more allied troops are needed, would France consider sending troops?

CHIRAC: It isn't a topical issue, really.

AMANPOUR: You have studied in the United States, you have worked briefly in the United States. You profess to love the United States. As I said, many Americans feel betrayed. Do you have anything to say in English, which I know you speak, to Americans tonight?

CHIRAC: Unfortunately, my English has become very rusty. In front of such a large audience I wouldn't want to dent the language of Shakespeare and mispronounce it.

But what I can say, from the bottom of my heart, to the American people is that we have to go beyond and overcome the passions of the day. We have to have an understanding, a view of the world, have a historical understanding and knowledge also.

I think that the two problems that mankind has to deal with today at the beginning of the 21st century have to be given very clear consideration. We shouldn't react superficially or have knee-jerk reactions to it. We have indeed to refuse and reject confrontations, useless confrontations. War, or the shock of civilization or the shock of religions is worse than anything. It is only through dialogue and respect for one another, debate and discussion, that we can have a serene world, a more balanced world, a less war-like world.

The second issue, which is also a very serious issue that we have to consider, although it is not often mentioned, that is the serious and soon-to-be irreversible depletion of our planet's resources if we go on exploiting it as we are. That indeed is a very real problem that we should discuss together on the basis of scientific evidence and scientific forecasts, to try and amend the situation and put things right. To make amends for our past madness.

That is what I want to tell the American people. That we have to work together on these issues to bring about peace, dialogue and respect for one another across the world, and at the same time make sure that we have a sustainable use of our planet's resources so that our children can also benefit from it and live in serenity.

And I just want to tell them also, because you want absolutely me to say a few words in English... I want to tell them also that France and I have always been friends of the United States, and this will not change. We are very, very attached to this situation where 200 [years] of common life with great help given to us by the Americans, and before by us to the Americans, this cannot be hidden by a problem of a few weeks and different views on a specific problem. We have the same goal, the same will, but we have not the same way to go to that goal.

AMANPOUR: On the eve of what looks like war, what do you have to say to President Bush, who you call a friend?

CHIRAC: I just want to tell him I don't share his views, that I don't approve of his initiative, and of course I hope that things run as smoothly as possible... peaceful disarmament ... if we have to have war there are as few dramas as possible.

AMANPOUR: There is a notion being floated right now that the Americans might give a week deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq, and thus end this crisis. Would you accept that?

CHIRAC: I said a long time ago that the best service Saddam Hussein could give his people and I'm sure that as a leader he loves his people -- was to just disappear from the scene. And that we could discuss, of course, the ways in which he could leave, even in the Security Council. But I think that given the current situation, a few attempts have been made to secure his departure, but that was unfortunately unsuccessful. I'm sorry to see that it was unsuccessful.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President, is this as much about France trying to restrain American power?

CHIRAC: Why are we always coming back to these old myths? Why would France want to restrain American power? And even if France wanted to do so, how could we? It's an absurd line of reasoning. It is absolutely not reasonable [or] realistic. I am trying to be more serious and more honest of our assessment of things and world affairs today. It is ridiculous, really.

AMANPOUR: Here, many commentators, many newspapers have been hailing you as a hero. They have even said your position should make you qualify for a Nobel Peace Prize. Of course, in America, in Britain, they call you an appeaser. That you are appeasing this terrible dictator who may have weapons of mass destruction.

CHIRAC: You know, about Saddam Hussein, I feel the same as George Bush or Tony Blair and even many other heads of government, whatever their position in the current situation. So really it is not a question of passing a judgment on an individual, on a regime, on his dictatorship. Indeed it is a dictatorship, one of the worst dictatorships, but it is not the only dictatorship. There is a rather long list of countries where there are dictatorships, and if we were going to wage war without using all the possible options to get rid of these dictatorships, then we are going to have a lot of work.

But really I don't think we are appeasing this dictator. I think the more we threaten him the more he will react as a wounded animal.

Again, every day there one more step toward cooperation done by Iraq. Maybe it is insufficient. Maybe we should go faster to secure disarmament by inspections. But I think we have to go along with the inspectors and follow that for as long as the inspectors can work, and until they tell us, "Look, we can't go any further," or "We've done it." And I think we can.

AMANPOUR: Just one last question so that I fully understand here. At one point you said the presence of so many troops is what has brought him this far -- and it is further than where he has been for many years. So why didn't you send troops to join that threat, and perhaps this would have been over much quicker?

CHIRAC: Once again, I think that, given the current situation, the Americans do not need any assistance. Those who can help, the British, for instanced, are just making an additional contribution. But the strength, the might of the U.S., the land forces, the aerial might and the navy was enough to exercise pressure by itself.

But as I said, France considered that there was another path that we could down that was more in line with the interests and was more likely to reach this goal we wanted to have, but also which is more in line with our understanding of the world that I mentioned earlier. As I said, this objective is to limit as much as possible ... we shouldn't start a war if it isn't completely necessary ... France is the first contributor of troops abroad in NATO ... we have not come to that point.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much indeed.

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