American Secretary of State Colin Powell has said France will suffer consequences for having opposed the US over the war with Iraq.
He said the US would be reviewing all aspects of its relations with France in light of its decision to veto any UN Security Council resolution authorising war against Iraq.
Details of Mr Powell’s comments to an American TV programme emerged after France’s UN ambassador – in an unexpected move – proposed the immediate suspension of sanctions against Iraq.
Washington has been pressing for sanctions to be lifted now that US-led forces have ousted Saddam Hussein.
Responding to Mr Powell’s remarks, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said France would continue to defend international law.
“It’s over and we have to take a look at the relationship,” Mr Powell said of ties with France, according to a transcript of an interview on the Charlie Rose Show provided by the State Department.
“We have to look at all aspects of our relationship with France in light of this.”
Asked if there were consequences for having opposed the US, Mr Powell replied “yes” but did not elaborate.
Senior US officials are reported to have debated tough measures against France at a high-level meeting on Monday.
One US official was quoted as saying: “They are trying to find ways to create alternative mechanisms for dealing with the French – or rather without them – and not just at Nato, but more broadly.”
US diplomats had earlier welcomed France’s initiative on sanctions, described by the BBC’s UN correspondent Greg Barrow as a significant shift in its position.
The UN embargo was imposed in August 1990, shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait, and dismantling it will pave the way for Iraq to sell oil to help pay for post-war reconstruction.
The sanctions and subsequent war have devastated Iraq’s economy and infrastructure.
Last week, the US president called for sanctions to be lifted quickly.
US ‘looking forward’
The French ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, said the sanctions issue was linked by past Security Council resolutions to a certification of Iraqi disarmament.
“So meanwhile, we could suspend the sanctions and adjust the oil-for-food [programme] with an idea of its phasing out,” he told reporters, following a briefing by UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.
Under the oil-for-food programme – launched in December 1996 but suspended during the war – the UN managed the use of funds generated by limited Iraqi oil sales to pay for imports of humanitarian goods.
The weapons inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq shortly before the US and UK launched the war to oust Saddam Hussein – a war condemned by France, Germany and Russia.
France has previously insisted that UN inspectors alone had the authority to hunt for weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
But on Tuesday, Mr de la Sabliere spoke of the need for new arrangements so that UN inspectors could work alongside US forces to finish the job of certifying whether Iraq is free of banned weapons.
US ambassador John Negroponte reacted coolly, saying the US and UK had assumed responsibility for disarming Iraq.
And White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said “We are looking forward, not backwards.”
Since the war the US has deployed its own teams to look for banned weapons, which it cited as the key reason for launching war, but so far there are no reports of any being found.
Many nations on the Security Council say UN inspectors should be the ones to verify any new discoveries, and on Tuesday Mr Blix presented a case for sending his teams back to Iraq.