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Last Updated: Monday, 27 September, 2004, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
French seek Iraq pull-out debate
US troops in Iraq
There are about 138,000 US troops in Iraq
Withdrawal of US-led forces must be on the agenda if an international summit on Iraq is to go ahead, France's Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said.

He was responding to a proposal from US Secretary of State Colin Powell for a conference next month.

Mr Powell said the meeting would help stabilise the region in the run-up to Iraqi elections in January.

Mr Barnier described Iraq as a "black hole", and said minimum security levels must be met before elections are held.

The French minister proposed that all political groups in Iraq, "including a certain number of groups or people who now have chosen the path of resistance by arms", should be included in the talks.

This chaos runs the risk of destabilising, of drawing in the whole region
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier
He also said the "only place" to hold such a gathering was at the United Nations.

Mr Powell suggested the summit could be held in Jordan or Egypt, and include Iraq's Middle East neighbours and major industrialised countries.

Mr Barnier said US withdrawal was a central issue, one "which should be on the agenda of such a conference, if we want it to take place".

EU backing

"The situation in Iraq is one of chaos," he told France Inter radio.

"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," he said.

The EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana called the idea of a conference a "positive" step, though he said it would not necessarily be possible to convene it next month.

Mr Solana also said Iraq's elections should go ahead in January despite fears that recent spiralling violence will make them impossible.


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