Foreign Minister Kouchner defends trip to Iraq

21st August 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 21, 2007 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Tuesday rejected criticism that his visit to Iraq was a sop to the Americans and said France was ready to help carve out a stronger UN role in the country.

PARIS, Aug 21, 2007 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Tuesday rejected criticism that his visit to Iraq was a sop to the Americans and said France was ready to help carve out a stronger UN role in the country.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner

Kouchner held talks with Iraqi leaders during his three-day visit to Baghdad that marked France's return to Iraqi diplomacy after it led opposition to the US-led invasion in 2003.

"We had a very clear distinct position from the US policy. We did not support the US intervention and I believe that we were right," Kouchner told RTL radio from Baghdad on the final day of his visit.

"It's very important that the Iraqis remember this and remember what France's position has been. This gives us a very specific role," he said.

Kouchner has come under fire at home for making the trip, with former defence minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement calling it his "walk to Canossa", in reference to the humiliating visit paid by Roman Emperor Henry IV in 1077 to Canossa to seek pardon from the pope.

"By accepting the invitation of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Bernard Kouchner remains loyal to his Kurdish friends," said Chevenement.

But he added: "France, however, has squandered the benefit of its non-alignment."

Chevenement questioned the timing of the visit, eight days after President Nicolas Sarkozy had lunch with US President George W. Bush at his family's summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

"If Nicolas Sarkozy truely believes as he said in January 2007 that the US invasion of Iraq was a mistake, why is he today offering to cover it up and for whom? " Chevenement told AFP.

French Green Party MP Noel Mamere also harshly criticised Kouchner's visit, saying "France is behaving like a poodle."

"What are we going to do with this mess?" he asked. "We are just going to get our hands dirty."

Kouchner's visit was the first by a senior French official since the US invasion in March 2003 that followed months of fierce opposition by former president Jacques Chirac to the military campaign.

Kouchner acknowledged a shift in the French stance on Iraq following the election in May of Sarkozy, who has taken a more pro-American stance than his predecessor.

"Before there was this attitude that seemed to say 'move on, there is nothing to see here, it's so complicated and a lost cause that we shouldn't get involved'. Well that's not the attitude of France now," said Kouchner.

"Everyone knowns that the Americans will not be able to pull the country out of turmoil by themselves," he added.

"The more the Iraqis seek the intervention of the UN, the more support they will receive from France," Kouchner asserted.

The foreign minister reiterated that he had not given the Americans advance notice of his plans to go to Baghdad and that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice along with his British and German counterparts David Miliband and Frank-Walter Steinmeier were notified only "a few hours" before his departure.

"Whatever happens here will change the world," Kouchner said, arguing that Iraq's fate would have a lasting impact on relations between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Middle East stability and relations with countries like Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

AFP

Subject: French news

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