BRUSSELS, March 21 (UPI) -- French President Jacques Chirac said on Friday the U.S.-led war against Iraq was illegal and threatened to veto a fresh U.N. resolution on the post-war reconstruction of the country until the end of the conflict.
Speaking to reporters after a two-day European Union summit in Brussels, Chirac called for a speedy return to the "international system of law from which we have departed."
Describing the outbreak of the conflict as a "tragic moment," the veteran French leader called on British and American forces to limit the loss of life and protect Iraq's rich heritage.
Chirac also delivered a knock-out blow to British premier Tony Blair's hopes of passing a new U.N. resolution on the reconstruction of Iraq while the conflict continues: "France will not accept such a resolution, which would legitimize military intervention and give British and American belligerents administrative control over Iraq," he said.
Chirac, who Thursday blocked EU attempts to sketch out a plan to rebuild post-war Iraq, said there was "no point talking about reconstruction while we are in the midst of destruction."
The move is likely to further strain relations between Paris and London. Earlier Friday, Blair said it was "important" to pass a U.N. Security Council resolution "which governs not just the humanitarian situation but the post-Saddam civil authority in Iraq."
Much to the annoyance of Britain and the United States, France has opposed the use of force since the start of the stand-off between Washington and Baghdad, arguing that U.N. arms inspectors should be given more time to finish their work.
In a sign of the country's frustration with the start of the military campaign in Iraq, Chirac said France had accepted a Belgian invitation to attend a special defense summit with Germany in the next few weeks. The Gaullist leader said the initiative, proposed by Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, was a way of "pushing the European security and defense policy forward."
In a separate development Friday, France rejected U.S. demands to expel Iraqi diplomats from its territory and close Baghdad's interest section in Paris.
"France was asked by American authorities to expel Iraqi diplomats and close the embassy in Paris," a Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters during a noonday press briefing. "France considers such a demand comes under its sovereignty."
Iraq has no formal embassy in France, although it has an interest section housed in the financial sector of the Moroccan embassy in Paris.
The U.S. Embassy in Paris offered no comment on either the demand or the French rejection, but Washington has made similar demands in other countries where Iraqi diplomats are stationed.
(Lisa Bryant, in Paris, contributed to this report.)