France expresses renewed commitment in Iraq
French foreign minister arrived in Iraq on Saturday on an unannounced visit to underline renewed political commitment in the war-ravaged nation.2 June 2008
BAGHDAD - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner arrived in Iraq on Saturday on an unannounced visit to underline the "renewed political commitment of France" to the war-ravaged nation, diplomats said.
Kouchner arrived in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq at the start of a two-day trip during which he held talks with Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi and later travelled to the capital Baghdad, diplomats said.
Mahdi, a Shiite Francophone who lived in French exile, is one of the leaders of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), a key member of the governing coalition.
Kouchner attended a conference of investors at Nasiriyah University and travelled with Mahdi to the archaeological site of the ancient Sumerian civilization of Ur, 18 kilometres southwest of the city.
He arrived in Baghdad later Saturday and opened talks with President Jalal Talabani, who had invited him to Iraq.
Details of the talks were not immediately known.
"This visit reflects the renewed political commitment of France with regard to Iraq and the Iraqi people," the foreign ministry said in Paris.
During his stay, Kouchner will also meet Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
On Sunday, the French minister is also expected to travel to Arbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region 350 kilometres north of Baghdad to open a French representative office.
France has an embassy in Baghdad, but had announced it would also open two more diplomatic offices in Iraq - one in Arbil and the other in the oil-rich port of Basra, 550 kilometres south of the capital.
The visit will be "an opportunity to express the availability of France to work to promote national reconciliation in Iraq," the foreign ministry said.
Kouchner had travelled to Baghdad last August on the first visit by a member of the French government since the invasion of the country by US-led forces in 2003.
France under former president Jacques Chirac strongly opposed the invasion and did not participate.
Shortly after that visit, Kouchner had to apologise to Maliki for calling for his resignation in an interview with the US magazine Newsweek.
His latest trip comes two days after the International Compact with Iraq conference in Stockholm where the international community hailed the Baghdad government's progress in security and reconstruction.
"The situation in Iraq is improving, but the crisis is far from over," a French diplomat said in Paris, adding that France was "available to host an Iraq reconciliation conference if it was deemed useful.
"It is important that the international community, particularly the European Union, rise to the occasion to help Iraqis," added the source, noting that Paris will have the rotating EU presidency in the second half of this year.
Kouchner arrived in the country from Jordan where he said on Friday that France was ready to receive 500 refugees from Iraq "as a first step".
[AFP / Expatica]