French minister's visit shows new stance on Iraq
Monday, 02 June 2008

Baghdad, June 01 (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner met Iraq's president on Saturday during a visit officials said showed Paris's renewed commitment to a country whose 2003 invasion by US-led troops it strongly opposed.

Kouchner held talks in Baghdad with President Jalal Talabani and told reporters afterwards that the Iraqi leader had discussed with him the process of national reconciliation.

Kouchner began his two-day tour with a visit to the southern city of Nassiriya where he held talks with Shi'ite Vice-President Abel Abdul-Mahdi, a French-educated economist, and provincial governor Aziz Kadhim Alwan.

"The visit represents the re-engagement of France, and through it the European Union and the international community, in Iraq," a French diplomatic official in Paris said.

The official said Kouchner would inaugurate a new French embassy office in Arbil in northern Iraq.

France, which takes over the EU's rotating presidency in July, has said it will lead a drive for greater EU involvement in rebuilding Iraq and has offered to host reconciliation talks.

It was Kouchner's second visit to Iraq, nine months after he made the first visit to the country by a top French official since the beginning of the U.S.-led war.

Kouchner discussed the possibility of French companies investing in Iraq at the meeting with the Iraqi officials in Nassiriya, said Abdul Hussein Dawod, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Kouchner went on to hold his talks in Baghdad with Talabani and parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.

"I was very happy to benefit from the president's experience and description of recent events in Iraq, as well as the future development of national reconciliation," Kouchner said.

APOLOGY TO MALIKI

Former French President Jacques Chirac led international opposition to the invasion of Iraq, but new President Nicolas Sarkozy has sought warm relations with Washington since his election a year ago.

Kouchner, one of the few French politicians who backed military intervention in Iraq, was due to hold talks on Sunday with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Kouchner was forced to apologize last August for having said that Maliki should be replaced.

Maliki demanded the apology after Kouchner was quoted by Newsweek magazine as saying the Iraqi government was not working and that Maliki should be replaced.

bdnews24.com/amt/1210 hrs.

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