France ready to help stabilise Iraq
BAGHDAD, Aug 20, 2007 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Monday after a flurry of talks with Iraqi leaders that France would support broader international moves to reconcile the country's bitterly divided communities. Foreign Minister Bernard KouchnerKouchner described his three-day visit to Baghdad as a fact-finding tour designed to reconnect France with the situation, and allow his country to play a bigger role in future UN-led moves to defuse the crisis. His surprise visit, whi
BAGHDAD, Aug 20, 2007 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Monday after a flurry of talks with Iraqi leaders that France would support broader international moves to reconcile the country's bitterly divided communities.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
His surprise visit, which began on Sunday, was the first by a French official to the war-torn country since the US-led invasion of March 2003, which Paris vehemently opposed.
He has met Iraq's top officials, but so far no American generals.
After meeting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Kouchner held a hectic schedule of meetings, including with President Jalal Talabani and his Sunni and Shiite vice presidents, Tareq al-Hashemi and Adel Abdel Mahdi.
Speaking at a news conference after his talks with Talabani, the minister set the tone for what is seen as a potential shift of French policy in Iraq.
"France is ready to play a role in the fight against the violence," he said.
Describing as "unacceptable" the bitter sectarian violence which has claimed thousands of lives in the past 18 months, he added: "We want to be at the side of this large and important country at the birth of its democracy."
While not elaborating on the role he expected France to play, Kouchner indicated this may evolve through support for UN efforts in Iraq.
"One part of the fight against violence and the restoration of peace and democracy in the country lies with the United Nations. France approves this path and we will assist in this direction," he said.
Speaking to AFP during a short tour of the French embassy in Karrada suburb of the violence-wracked capital, Kouchner stressed that his visit was mainly to listen to leaders of the various communities.
"I came to listen to the people," he said. "I came to renew contacts and to listen to the people from all the communities and all the religions.
"We are ready to play what sort of role? At the moment there is some indication there is some support from all the communities, from the Sunnis to the Shiites, that they want to enlarge the United Nations mandate," he said.
He said France also supported an initiative by Iraq's immediate neighbours, who have formed groups to study ways to resolve the three main issues facing the country - security, energy and refugees.
"If we can play a role - but what sort of role?" he said. "My visit is not enough - but it may be the begining of something. If it is I'll be back."
His trip, shortly after President Nicolas Sarkozy made a fence-building visit to the United States, will be seen as a sign France wants to re-establish a role as a world power after being left on the sidelines of recent conflicts.
Talabani said Iraq was keen "to establish the best relations with France... This visit is an historic opportunity to promote French-Iraqi relations."
A statement by Maliki's office said the prime minister had appealed to France to support the efforts of his government to achieve security and stability "through its regional contacts and its international stature."
Maliki also called on French companies to participate in efforts to reconstruct Iraq, which, he said, had started ridding itself of terror groups.
On Sunday, Kouchner made it clear that France had no regrets about its original decision to oppose the US war on Iraq, which severely strained ties between Washington and France.
Subject: French news