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Iraq: World Leaders React to Bush Ultimatum

Paris, 18 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Several world leaders today are criticizing U.S. President George W. Bush's overnight ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq by tomorrow or face a U.S.-led military attack. French President Jacques Chirac said Iraq presents no immediate threat that justifies such a move. He said Bush's ultimatum threatens international relations and world stability. "No matter what course the events will take in the near future, this ultimatum questions our idea of international relations. It concerns the future of a people, the future of a region, and indeed the future of world stability," Chirac said.

China's new President Hu Jintao said after a telephone conversation with Chirac that they have a "similar position" on Iraq, and "should strengthen cooperation and make efforts for world peace." The Kremlin said that in a telephone conversation today, Hu and Russian President Vladimir Putin also "reaffirmed their common approach" to the Iraqi crisis.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the threat posed by Iraq does not justify war.

At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said those who decide that all peaceful means are exhausted "assume a grave responsibility before God, their conscience, and history."

Australia today announced it has committed 2,000 troops to fight with the U.S. if Bush orders war against Iraq.

Prime Minister Costas Simitis of Greece, which currently holds the European Union presidency, said the U.S. ultimatum on Iraq has created a "great global crisis."

Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson released a statement today saying military action against Iraq is unjustifiable at a time when UN weapons inspectors are making progress in Iraq.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said the U.S. ultimatum could have been avoided and that weapons inspections in Iraq "were going well."

Pakistan's government said that "the time and space for diplomacy never ends," urging a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Earlier today, the UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in anticipation of a U.S.-led attack.

The Iraqi leadership today rejected the U.S. ultimatum. State television said the decision was made at a joint meeting -- chaired by Saddam Hussein -- of the Revolutionary Command Council, Iraq's highest executive body, and the leadership of the ruling Ba'ath Party.