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France says Iraqi government must call in NATO

PARIS, Feb 19 (AFP) – France said Thursday that NATO forces could be sent to Iraq, but only if an Iraqi government made the request and other Middle East countries did not perceive a deployment to be a threat.

Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin raised the possibility in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper in which he reaffirmed his government’s position that the priority for Iraq was to regain its sovereignty after nearly a year of US-led military occupation.

“First of all, NATO can only be called on at the request of an Iraqi government, and with the prior agreement of the United Nations,” he said.

“There is then the question of principle: would the arrival of NATO as another element in the Middle East be a stabilising or complicating factor? We have to be very prudent when looking at what could be felt by some countries in the region to be an aggression,” he said.

A boosted role for the United Nations in Iraq and the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty by June 30, as the United States has promised, are needed, even if problems with holding elections mean a temporary government in Baghdad should be established, de Villepin told the newspaper.

If those conditions were met, France remained ready to help Iraq build its police force, notably through the creation of a police academy, he said.

However, for the changes to be successful, political, cultural, educational and social aspects must be taken into account by the West, “otherwise our initiative risks looking like it is motivated by our security interests rather than a desire to see development in the region.”

De Villepin also added that “if we want to be credible, we can’t ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” and called again for a tattered Middle East peace plan to be observed so that a Palestinian state can be declared.


                                                              Subject: France news