France opens door to Iraq

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The Independent Online
Baghdad (Reuter) - France's decision to receive an Iraqi leader in Paris and establish a diplomatic toehold in Baghdad has given Iraq hope that UN trade sanctions may be eased soon.

On Friday, the Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz , had a long meeting with the French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, the first time since the 1991 Gulf War that an Iraqi minister had been officially received in Paris.

Diplomats in Baghdad said the decision by France, which is re-establishing a diplomatic interests section at the Romanian embassy, was the culmination of discreet contacts.

French companies have tentatively reached lucrative oil and other industrial deals with Iraqi ministries. In the Eighties, France was a major arms supplier, helping to tilt the ruinous eight-year war with Iran in Iraq's favour. In return, French companies got preferential treatment when bidding for contracts. Iraq has pledged similar treatment in exchange for help in having the oil blockade eased.

France's decision also coincided with a defiant statement by President Saddam Hussein marking Army Day. He said the United States and its allies had failed to subdue Iraq in the war that followed its invasion of Kuwait.

Diplomats said that in its legal interpretation of UN Security Council resolutions, under which Iraq would be allowed to export oil again once it met all demands involving weapons of mass destruction, Baghdad now had three members of the council on its side - France, Russia and China. The sanctions will be reviewed on 17 January.