Chirac, speaking to reporters on Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly, said there was no justification for a superpower to act alone.

“No one can be isolated, no one can act alone in everyone’s name and no one can accept the anarchy of a lawless society. There is no alternative to the United Nations,” said the French president, who strongly opposed the US-British invasion of Baghdad.

He said the split over the Iraq war had put the world body through “one of the toughest tests in its history” and insisted that unilateral action was a recipe for trouble.

Earlier, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had warned Bush that the US doctrine of pre-emptive action had brought the world body to a “fork in the road”.

The Secretary General questioned US arguments that nations had the “right and obligation to use force pre-emptively” against unconventional weapons systems even while they were still being developed.

"My concern is that, if it were to be adopted, it could set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without credible justification,”  said Annan in a speech to the Assembly.

Splits remain

UN and French leaders say US
war shook world body

Chirac said he and Bush had failed to overcome their differences over the future of the war-torn country.

Bush hopes a proposed UN Security Council resolution on Iraq will spur other nations to offer troops and money to the US-led occupation.

Chirac wants the resolution to speed up the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi people and urged for this to take place as soon as possible.

In his speech to the Assembly, Bush said that outside nations should not accelerate the handover of power.

Palestine

And on a different Middle East front, Chirac said Palestinian President Yasir Arafat should not be sidelined, despite Bush’s efforts to rally world opinion against the veteran leader.

“The Palestinian cause is betrayed by leaders who cling to power by feeding old hatreds and destroying the good work of others,” said Bush.

But Chirac said Arafat remained the only Palestinian leader able to impose a Middle East peace.

“One can think whatever one wants about Yasir Arafat, you may think well or ill. The fact remains that he is the authority, he is the elected, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. You can’t change that fact,” said the French leader.

The European Union opposed efforts to neutralise Arafat, said Chirac.