PARIS, Jan 31 (AFP) - The Iraqi elections showed "the strategy of terrorist groups partly failed," French President Jacques Chirac told his US counterpart George W. Bush by telephone Monday, officials in Paris said.
The Sunday poll was "an important stage in the political reconstruction" of Iraq, Chirac told Bush in the 15-minute conversation, according to presidential spokesman Jerome Bonnafont.
The French leader said the turnout and technical organisation of the elections was "satisfactory," he added.
Between 60 and 75 percent of registered voters were estimated to have cast ballots. The result of the elections would not be known for several days.
Chirac reiterated that France was ready to "cooperate with Iraq, especially by training security forces and senior civil servants." Paris has refused US pressure to carry out such training in Iraq itself, however.
After the elections, the focus in Iraq should be "including all groups that have renounced armed struggle" and drafting a constitution, Chirac said.
Bonnafont said that Chirac also took the opportunity to say to Bush that he was looking forward to seeing him over dinner when the US president visits Brussels February 21.
Paris and Washington have been making efforts of late to smooth over the dispute caused by the US-led invasion of Iraq. Relations are now cordial if tepid.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told the Europe 1 radio station Monday that he and the rest of Chirac's government "don't regret anything" over the way they acted in relation to the war.
"We said what we believed and we are looking straight ahead," he said. He added that the Iraqi elections "were a victory for the Iraqi people and a first important step, which is indispensable for democracy and for the political process that we want to see and towards which we - I'm speaking of the international community - have been working for months."
But he also stressed that they now laid the ground for US and other foreign troops to leave Iraq.
"Frankly, the Americans want to exit this tragedy, this situation where their soldiers are dying," Barnier said.
The French media conceded that Bush had reason to feel triumphant over the elections.
The conservative Le Figaro daily said the US president was "the big winner" simply because the polls were carried out at all, despite the violence gripping Iraq.
It asked itself whether the polls would allow "the Americans to discover the beginning of an exit strategy?"
"Ignorant of the world and blinded by their power, the Americans often only arrive at the right solution after having exhausted all the alternatives," Le Figaro said, paraphrasing Winston Churchill.
Liberation, a left-leaning newspaper, also hailed Sunday's polls, saying the strong turnout revealed the insurgents as "a violent minority whose power to persuade or intimidate is exerted only on part of the Sunni minority."
It said the task of the new Iraqi leaders should be to organise the rapid withdrawal of the foreign forces in their country because "more and more, they are part of the problem rather than the solution."
Subject: French News
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