Global Policy Forum

France Says Iraq Conference

Agence France Presse
September 28, 2004

Europe reacted with cautious support to a US proposal for an international conference on Iraq , though France said it would need to address the issue of a US troop withdrawal and include representatives of the armed opposition. The European Union 's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the idea was universally accepted "in the hope that it will be constructive and positive."

In Berlin, which like France opposed last year's US-led invasion of Iraq, the German government said it had long been in favour of an international forum to prop up the process of democratisation. Britain's Foreign Office said simply that the idea had originated with the Iraqis themselves who would organise any meeting.

In a shift of policy over the weekend, the US administration said that it now supported what it insisted was an Iraqi idea for a conference to promote reconstruction and peacekeeping efforts. Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) said it could take place in a Middle Eastern capital before the US presidential election on November 2.

France, which took the lead in opposing the US-led intervention in Iraq, said that while it was not against the proposal, that any meeting should also discuss the withdrawal of US-led forces and include the armed opposition. Describing the situation in Iraq as a "black hole," Foreign minister Michel Barnier hinted that France could make discussion of the withdrawal of foreign forces a condition for agreeing to the conference. "It is an issue which should be on the agenda of such a conference, if we want it to take place," he told France Inter radio.

Barnier said that any conference should include "different communities and countries of the region as well as all (Iraqi) political groups, including those that have chosen the path of armed resistance." A spokesman for the French foreign ministry said later that a conference attended only by the Iraqi interim government and neighbouring countries would not be seen as credible. "The situation in Iraq is one of chaos with general insecurity even in the Green Zone," he added, referring to the high-security enclave in Baghdad which contains the headquarters of the interim government and the US embassy. "This chaos runs the risk of destabilising, of drawing in the whole region. I have compared it to a black hole. We have to get out of this black hole, this spiral of violence, and launch negotiations and the political process," the minister said. "We are in a process set out by a UN resolution (1546), and we must stick to it," Barnier said. The essential stages were "democratic elections ... a new constitution with a referendum, and then the question of the international forces will have to be asked," he said.

Powell said Sunday the conference could take place in a city such as Cairo or Amman, and should be attended by the G8 group of industrialised nations as well as Iraq's neighbours including Iran and Syria. Barnier said France would prefer a conference in New York, to reinforce the impression that is under the aegis of the United Nations. He said the timing was less important than "how to make it successful and useful."

Later, Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos welcomed an announcement by Egypt that it would host an international conference next month on the possibility of organising elections in Iraq. An Egyptian official said the October meeting would group Iraq's neighbours and the G8 countries but did not specify whether it would be the same conference planned by the United States. "We are satisfied with this announcement. It's good news," Moratinos said. "Spain will back the result of this conference."

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller voiced support for the US proposal, according to the Danish Ritzau news agency in New York. "If Iraq invites us we'll go," he said following a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari in the US city.

There was no immediate reaction from Moscow, while in Warsaw, a government source speaking anonymously said it was "very much affected" by the conference proposal as it has 2,500 Polish troops in Iraq.

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