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Last Updated: Friday, 14 May, 2004, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
French FM blasts Iraqi occupation
Michel Barnier and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
France wants a greater UN role in Iraq
France's foreign minister has strongly criticised the occupation of Iraq, describing the country as a black hole which was sucking in the world.

In an interview published in Le Monde newspaper, Michel Barnier spoke of a lack of direction in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole.

The US had to realise that the 30 June Iraq handover should be a clean break from the current situation, he said.

Mr Barnier also ruled out sending French troops to Iraq in the future.

He said France could be useful to Iraq in other ways.

Mr Barnier has been holding ongoing discussions with other UN Security Council members in New York about a possible resolution on Iraq to be passed before the June deadline.

'Spiral of horror'

He is travelling to Washington on Friday to join other G8 foreign ministers to discuss Iraq and the Middle East.

Correspondents say his comments are unusually tough, as Paris has sought to ease tensions with Washington and avoid harsh criticism of its policy in Iraq.

Mr Barnier told the newspaper on Thursday he was shocked by the "spiral of horror, blood and inhumanity on all fronts" in Iraq and also in the Palestinian territories.

The moment has come to take a strong initiative to get out of the Iraqi tragedy, this black hole which is in the process of sucking in the Middle East and the world
Michel Barnier
French foreign minister
"All this gives the impression of a complete loss of direction," he said.

He said that while it was not France's task to lecture the coalition, action had to be taken in Iraq.

"The moment has come to take a strong initiative to get out of the Iraqi tragedy, this black hole which is in the process of sucking in the Middle East and ... the world," he said.

He said Iraq needed a government which had all the levers of sovereignty and control once it took power.

The BBC's Susannah Price in New York says there is a continuing debate in the UN about the future relationship between the new Iraqi government, the Iraqi army and the coalition forces.

Washington intends to keep command of what will become the multinational force, leading to accusations that the Iraqis would have only limited sovereignty.

But Mr Barnier said the Iraqis should manage their economy, resources and justice system and had to have authority over the Iraqi security forces.

He went on to say there should be consultations about the movements and operations of the multinational force and that, after elections in January, the Iraqis should be able to decide whether the force should stay or go.

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