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France ‘could send troops to Iraq’


PARIS, Jan 15 (AFP) – French President Jacques Chirac is considering sending a military contingent to Iraq to serve under a UN mandate once the US-led coalition has handed over sovereignty to the Iraqis in June, Le Monde newspaper said Thursday.

Quoting an unnamed advisor to Chirac, the paper said that if the UN Security Council was to ask NATO to send in a multinational stabilisation force to Iraq similar to the SFOR force in Bosnia, France would not object and could well participate.

The advisor said it was possible to envisage a situation in which two foreign forces existed side-by-side in Iraq: US and other coalition troops remaining after the handover of sovereignty, and a new UN-meditated multinational force.

“All these issues have to be discussed now. We have a shared need with the Americans to look at the future together,” the advisor was quoted as saying.

On Thursday French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie flew to Washington for talks with her US counterpart Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in what Alliot-Marie’s spokesman described as a “positive spirit of cooperation.”

Chirac’s diplomatic advisor Maurice Gourdaut-Montagne was also due in Washington by the end of the month.

Any French deployment would depend on a number of factors including a clear request from a sovereign Iraqi government and a new willingness by the United Nations to re-engage in Iraq after the attack on its Baghdad headquarters in August and its subsequent withdrawal, Le Monde said.

“France is one of the countries pushing the UN to take on a role accompanying and watching over the process of transition, because this would legitimise future institutions and prevent them being seen as American puppets,” the paper reported.

Until recently France has spoken only of sending non-military aid to a post-coalition Iraq – at most a team of police instructors was under consideration – but Le Monde said the approaching June deadline was encouraging new lines of thought.

After the total breakdown of relations with the United States over the invasion of Iraq, the French government has detected what it sees as a series of signals from Washington hinting at a desire for cooperation.

“The Americans no longer offer the French a pout of disgust,” Le Monde said.

Among these signals was the recent visit by US envoy James Baker, who won agreement from Paris to write off part of debts owed by Iraq. France has also been told that it will be allowed to bid for contracts to be paid for out of two new tranches of US reconstruction aid worth USD 10 billion (EUR 7.9 billion).

Last month’s directive from the Pentagon excluding France, Germany and Russia from competing for reconstruction contracts worth 18.6 billion dollars prompted an outraged reaction, and the White House now saw it had been a diplomatic blunder, Le Monde said.

As a positive gesture last month, the French government gave a high-profile welcome to members of the US-appointed interim Iraqi Governing Council – despite its refusal to recognise the council’s legitimacy.

“We said to ourselves that members of the delegation were going to be important players in the coming months. And they made clear their desire to get the UN involved in the transition – which exactly matches our concerns,” the Chirac advisor said.

June also sees three international summit meetings – G8, US-EU and NATO – as well as the 60th anniversary commemorations of the Normandy landings in World War II, which Chirac has said he wants to use as a “celebration of the transatlantic link.”


                                Subject: France news