Africa's full endorsement of French President Jacques Chirac's position on the Iraq crisis came amid a firestorm of controversy over the participation of Zimbabwe's authoritarian President Robert Mugabe in the biennial gathering.
The 52 African nations attending the 22nd Franco-African summit, which opened on Thursday, backed France's call for continued and intensified UN weapons inspections in Iraq and urged Baghdad to show active cooperation.
"There is an alternative to war," the nations said in a joint declaration. "The use of force, which entails serious risks of destabilization for the region, for Africa and the world, should only be a last resort."
France has insisted that stepping up inspections under UN Security Council Resolution 1441 is the best way to ensure Iraq's disarmament, but the United States is pushing for a second resolution that would authorize military action.
Three African countries, all of them represented at the Paris summit, are currently non-permanent members of the Security Council -- Angola, Cameroon and Guinea. France is a permanent Council member with veto-wielding power.
While the joint statement on Iraq seemed to mark a victory for Chirac, he faced widespread international criticism over his decision to invite Zimbabwe's pariah president to the summit despite European Union sanctions.
Chirac had obtained a waiver to an EU travel ban on the Zimbabwean leader, defending the invitation as a way to confront Mugabe face-to-face over human rights abuses and lawlessness in his famine-ridden southern African country.
The French leader got that opportunity, following a dinner at the Elysee presidential palace in honor of the some 45 heads of state and government attending the summit, when the two men held private talks.
Chirac's spokeswoman, who said the two leaders had met one-on-one without elaborating, said the French president hoped to tell Mugabe of "the concern in Europe and the world" over the political and economic turmoil in Zimbabwe.
Chirac, along with summit invitee UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, also used the forum to urge the Ivorian government and rebels to implement a French-brokered peace deal aimed at ending five months of ruinous civil war.
"I call again on all Ivorians, and particularly the country's political leaders, in particular (President) Laurent Gbagbo, to make the agreement they signed last month a concrete first step towards peace," Annan said.
New Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, who is attending the summit on behalf of the absent Gbagbo, is struggling to form a national unity government in accordance with the deal, which calls for the inclusion of the rebel groups.
Rebel leaders were expected in Paris on Friday for talks with Diarra about the formation of his cabinet, which the prime minister said he hoped to complete "in the coming days," according to Chirac's spokeswoman.
While political issues largely dominated Thursday's talks, Annan urged that more be done to fight AIDS, which he called "a governance and development crisis of catastrophic dimensions" on the world's poorest continent.
Participants in the summit, dubbed "Africa and France, together in a new partnership", were to conduct a third working session early Friday, with the fight against terrorism and sustainable developments on the agenda.
The summit ends today - Sapa-AFP