Briefing on the visit to Bagdad, Iraq by French President Sarkozy

Is the visit to Iraq by the President of the Republic coordinated with the Americans? What is the current state of trade between France and Iraq? Which French companies operate on Iraqi soil?
The President’s visit was coordinated with the Iraqi authorities. A new phase of return to Iraqi sovereignty has begun, with the end of the mandate of the multinational force at the end of last year, and with the holding of regional elections, the first to restore Iraqi authorities in their own country.

The primary objective of this visit was to show France’s support for the process of the return to sovereignty and democratization taking place in Iraq. The provincial elections took place in a climate that can be characterized as very satisfactory. This visit follows two visits to Iraq by Bernard Kouchner, as Minister of Foreign and European Affairs. The point of these visits was to revive dialogue between France and Iraq, with a view to a new dynamic.

As a reminder, between 2005 and 2008 France cancelled 4 billion euros in Iraqi debt. France actively contributes to the European program EUJUST LEX, a program for judges, policemen, and penitentiary personnel. Since the program’s launch in 2005, 270 Iraqi officials were welcomed for training in France. We have also welcomed several hundred Iraqi students during the past several years.

We support Iraq’s full reintegration into its regional environment, and that is why Bernard Kouchner participated in a meeting of Iraq’s neighboring states in Kuwait last April.

The President of the Republic recalled that a second objective is to develop economic relations between Iraq and France. The willingness to revitalize economic relations between the two countries should be noted.

Finally, the question of welcoming Iraqi refugees in France is also important. On February 1, France welcomed 566 refugees of Iraqi nationality, as part of a program to receive refugees that we had launched following Bernard Kouchner’s first trip to Iraq in August 2007. The plan is to accommodate about 1,100 refugees.

What has changed between the President’s visit today and Bernard Kouchner’s visit in August 2007?
Bernard Kouchner’s first visit in August 2007 was very symbolic, as it was the first visit by a foreign minister of a non-coalition member state. That trip therefore had a political and symbolic significance, demonstrating that France wished to renew close relations with Iraq, after the 2003 period. We then had to work to develop bilateral relations. Developments included the welcoming of refugees, the Security Council Resolution that ended the mandate for the presence of international forces on Iraqi soil, and the American change of administration.

All this represents significant progress and today, starting with the first cooperative efforts initiated during the Minister’s trips to the region and to Baghdad, coupled with this visit by the President of the Republic, we can definitively turn the page.

Several weeks ago, the President said that the American intervention in Iraq was not only a mistake, but was also wrong; do you still consider the 2003 intervention to overthrow Saddam Hussein an error?
When the President of the Republic speaks, it is, by definition, the position of France.

Are the Iraqi refugees from one single community or several communities?
They hail from many communities, a majority being Iraqi Christians. This community has been particularly vulnerable of late, but the process does not only pertain to Iraqi Christians.

Following this subject since 2005, we still have the impression that it is France that is extending its hand to Iraq by hosting training programs and taking in refugees, participating in European programs, and writing off a major part of Iraqi debt. Yet we aren’t really seeing the reverse; there aren’t many contracts or cooperative economic efforts. Aren’t you a little frustrated by this imbalance?
We are not at all frustrated. I was in attendance at some of these visits by Iraqi authorities, and I heard very positive discussion with regard to France. We must remember that cooperation doesn’t materialize in a matter of weeks. The process begins by restoring relations at the highest level between the leaders of the two countries, and then, by establishing the logistics for an economic partnership. Let me also remind you of the security conditions that make certain French economic players question the possibility of becoming involved once again in the long term in Iraq – in this regard, things are changing.

In a book that he wrote and presented yesterday at the International Center for Journalists Based in Paris (CAPE), the Crown Prince of Iran affirmed his intention to stay in France to coordinate the activities of the Iranian opposition. Can you comment?