- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2007

BAGHDAD (AP) — The French foreign minister paid an unannounced and highly symbolic visit to Baghdad yesterday — a gesture to the American effort in Iraq after years of icy relations over the U.S.-led invasion.

Bernard Kouchner said Paris wanted to “turn the page” and look to the future.

Mr. Kouchner said he was not in Iraq to offer initiatives or proposals, but to listen to ideas on how his country might help stop the devastating violence.

“Now we are turning the page. There is a new perspective. We want to talk about the future. Democracy, integrity, sovereignty, reconciliation and stopping the killings. That’s my deep aim,” Mr. Kouchner said in English after meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

“We hope that this visit will herald an increased level of engagement by France with Iraq, a level consistent with the activism of its foreign minister,” Mr. Zebari said, pointing to Mr. Kouchner’s humanitarian efforts as the former U.N. administrator for Kosovo and co-founder of the Nobel Prize-winning aid group Doctors Without Borders.



Mr. Kouchner drove from the airport in a heavily armored convoy, stopping first at the U.N. compound in the Green Zone at a memorial to victims of the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed U.N. special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 19 other persons. The two men were friends.

Mr. Kouchner said he timed his arrival to mark the fourth anniversary of the attack.

Asked at a press conference whether France was ready to help the Americans in Iraq, the top French diplomat said simply that he was on a fact-finding mission.

“We are ready to be useful, but the solution is in the Iraqis’ hands, not in the French hands,” he said. “I’m not frightened of the perspective of talking to the Americans.”

Mr. Kouchner later met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a government official said.

Mr. Kouchner’s visit serves to dramatize efforts by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to end lingering U.S.-French animosity over the 2003 Iraq invasion.

The refusal of Mr. Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, to back the U.S.-led military effort in Iraq led to a new low in French-U.S. ties.

Mr. Chirac and President Bush eventually reconciled, but Mr. Sarkozy’s election in May was a fresh start. Mr. Sarkozy, nicknamed “Sarko l’Americain” for his admiration of the go-getter spirit in the United States, met with Mr. Bush before he was elected and again a week ago at the seaside vacation home of Mr. Bush’s parents in Kennebunkport, Maine.

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