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France denies isolated from allies on Iraq

Thursday February 12, 9:34 am Eastern Time

PARIS, Feb 12 (Reuters) - The French foreign ministry insisted on Thursday Paris was not isolated from its European partners in the Iraqi crisis despite mounting signs that NATO allies were swinging into line behind Washington.

``I see no differences but a great unity of views between the 15 European Union members who all agree that everything must be done to secure a peaceful solution,'' foreign ministry spokesman Yves Doutriaux told reporters.

He was answering questions a day after three more EU states, who like France are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, firmed up support for Washington.

``Certain other countries are placing themselves in another hypothesis (in case no diplomatic solution is found) and that is their responsibility,'' Doutriaux said.

"But I can assure you, no country wants to use force."

European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici told the French parliament on Wednesday that France's position of opposing a military solution to the standoff over United Nations weapons inspections in Iraq was the same as Spain's and Italy's.

But even as he spoke Spain said it would back military action if diplomacy failed while Italy said an hour later that refusing use of military bases to the United States would send the wrong signal at a time of crucial diplomacy.

Asked whether France would lend bases in case of U.S. military action, Doutriaux replied: ``I won't answer that question.''

Doutriaux said France placed its greatest hopes for a peaceful solution in a possible visit to Baghdad by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, saying the ideas Annan expressed mirrored those of France.

Doutriaux said these boiled down to striking a balance between the need for full access to suspect Iraqi sites for U.N. inspectors coupled with the need to respect the dignity of the Iraqi presidency.

While all Atlantic alliance governments still hope for a diplomatic, negotiated and peaceful solution to the tense standoff, most now say they will back Washington if it came to military intervention.

The offers of support range from the politically symbolic, such as Germany's assurance that U.S. forces may use American airbases on German soil, to the muscled, as in Britain's despatch of warplanes and ships to the Gulf.

Of the 15 NATO allies with military forces -- Iceland has none -- Britain and France are at opposite ends of the scale on the Iraq crisis.

London agrees with Washington on the threat to bomb Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to force compliance with U.N. resolutions to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. The British have moved several warships and aircraft to the Gulf.

Paris, which played a major role alongside the Americans in the 1991 Gulf war, is very reluctant to sanction force this time and has ruled out taking part if it happens. France is actively pursuing diplomacy in tandem with efforts by the Russians.

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