"I'm not at all sure that one can say the world is safer," Chirac told the BBC on the eve of a state visit to Britian. "There is no doubt there has been an increase in terrorism."

He said: "To a certain extent Saddam Hussein's departure was a positive thing but it also provoked reaction such as the mobilisation in a number of countries of men and women of Islam which has made the world more dangerous."

The full interview with the BBC is to be aired on Wednesday evening as Chirac prepares to fly to Britain on Thursday to meet Blair, Queen Elizabeth and business leaders to celebrate 100 years of the Entente Cordiale - an agreement that brought about French-British cooperation after a long history of rivalry.

Chirac, whose strong opposition to the war prompted US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to dismiss France as part of "Old Europe", has questioned what Blair has gained from his unstinting support of the invasion.

Bitter infighting

In a newspaper interview on Tuesday, Chirac said he had urged Britain before the invasion to press US President George Bush to revive the Middle East peace process in return for Britain's support for the war.

"Well, Britain gave its support but I did not see much in return," Chirac was quoted as saying in The Times. "I am not sure that it is in the nature of our American friends at the moment to return favours systematically."

Chirac said Saddam's departure
was a positive thing

Blair's support for the war prompted bitter faction fighting inside his ruling Labour Party and has eroded his public approval ratings before elections expected by mid-2005.

A poll in the Independent newspaper on Wednesday showed that 64% of the British public believed that having good relations with continental Europe was more important than maintaining close ties with Washington.

In the Times interview, Chirac recalled a Franco-British summit last year when he asked Blair to try to influence US policy on the Middle East.

Differences over Iraq

"I said then to Tony Blair: 'We have different positions on Iraq. Your position should at least have some use'. That is to try to obtain in exchange a relaunch of the peace process in the Middle East."

The French leader questioned whether Britain could act as a bridge between the United States and Europe to help heal the transatlantic rift.

"Saddam Hussein's departure ... provoked reaction such as the mobilisation in a number of countries of men and women of Islam which has made the world
more dangerous"


Jacques Chirac,
French President

"I am not sure, with America as it is these days, that it would be easy for someone, even the British, to be an honest broker," he said.

Blair called on Monday for Europe and the United States to bury their differences over Iraq and focus on global challenges.

"It is not a sensible or intelligent response for us in Europe to ridicule American arguments and parody their political leadership," Blair said in a major foreign policy speech.