Chirac keen to support 'genuine' Iraq handover

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The Independent Online

For a man dismissed as having overplayed his hand on Iraq at the UN a year ago, President Jacques Chirac finds himself in a strong position this week.

For a man dismissed as having overplayed his hand on Iraq at the UN a year ago, President Jacques Chirac finds himself in a strong position this week.

The French President was one of the first international leaders, with Tony Blair, called by President George Bush on Tuesday to drum up broad support for America's new-found belief in a UN-sponsored solution to the Iraq crisis.

But the French are not crowing - or not much.

First, President Chirac is determined that the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of D-Day should pass off well at the end of next week, repairing some of France's reputation with the wider American public. If there is to be another showdown with Washington, it will not be until after 6 June.

Secondly, France is as alarmed as anyone by the prospect of anarchy in Iraq feeding instability in the region and Islamist terrorism in the West.

French officials say that M. Chirac wants to play a positive role in the transfer of power in Iraq to Iraqis - so long as this is a genuine restoration of sovereignty.

France will not send troops for a peace-keeping force, even under the UN flag. Paris has also resisted US plans for a summit of world leaders next month to make a show of ordering a new start in Iraq. On the other hand, France, despite its reservations about America and Britain's draft resolution for the Security Council, is not in a vetoing mood. "If we do not reach agreement on a text which satisfies us, France would abstain in the vote," a source close to M. Chirac told the newspaper Le Monde yesterday. President Chirac reportedly told President Bush on Tuesday that Washington and London's proposal for a transfer of power was a "good basis" for discussion, but needed to be clarified. The transfer must be "real and accepted as real by the Iraqi people", he said. The French Foreign Minister, Michel Barnier, said that this must mean clear powers for an Iraqi interim government to manage the economy, control the oil industry and run the police and justice system.

It should also mean that the Iraqi government to be elected in January 2005 should have the sovereign right to tell foreign troops to go home, he said.

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