"We cannot accept an ultimatum as long as inspectors are reporting cooperation," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the United Nations Security Council.
"That would mean war. It would lead the Security Council to relinquish its responsibilities," he said, asking "by imposing a deadline of a few days, would we be reduced to seeking a pretext for war?"
He also said "France will not allow a resolution to pass that authorizes the automatic use of force," implicitly threatening to veto the US-British plan.
France's position is likely to complicate the US-British efforts to secure support for their resolution authorizing force as a means to disarm Saddam Hussein.
The French foreign minister drew soft applause from some diplomats seated in the council gallery. But the response stopped short of the spontaneous outpouring of support he received on Feb.14, when foreign ministers last attended a briefing by UN weapons inspectors.