- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2007

PARIS — Buoyed by his successful American vacation and positive opinion polls, President Nicolas Sarkozy plunged yesterday into a whirl of diplomacy, including a search for a role in Iraq that would be helpful to Washington.

While Mr. Sarkozy held three ministerial-level meetings, his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, was in Baghdad to find out the extent of French diplomatic opportunities there.

Mr. Kouchner, a socialist unexpectedly added to the conservative Cabinet, asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently, What can we do for you in Iraq?

The follow-up to the query yesterday marked a dramatic departure from French policy, which has decried U.S. intervention in Iraq since 2003.

Mr. Kouchner arrived in Baghdad on Sunday and sat down yesterday with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and other Iraqi officials.

It is true that, in the past, we did not agree with certain countries about the events in 2003, but all that has been put behind us now, he said in French at a joint press conference with Mr. Talabani, according to the Associated Press. Today, we have to look toward the future.

Mr. Kouchner said the United Nations should take a key role in brokering a political solution among Iraq’s squabbling factions.

We must not become accustomed to violence in Iraq, he said.

French commentators attributed Mr. Kouchner’s venture to Mr. Sarkozy’s visit with President Bush earlier this month at the Bush family retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Although preoccupied with a host of domestic issues, Mr. Sarkozy has placed better relations with the United States high on his agenda.

Opinion polls give Mr. Sarkozy a 65 percent approval rating for his first 100 days in office.

Despite the increasingly positive outlook in U.S.-French relations, differences on some foreign policy issues remain, including the future U.S. role in NATO and Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

France has been insisting on the need to reduce the extent of the U.S. control in NATO and the need to build an independent European defense force.

On Turkey, Washington has been urging membership in the European Union, while Mr. Sarkozy insists that Turkey is not a European nation and would like to see it in some form of a Mediterranean grouping associated with the union.

Reflecting the optimistic mood after Mr. Sarkozy’s U.S. vacation, French officials do not expect public clashes on those issues.