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Last Updated: Monday, 20 August 2007, 22:37 GMT 23:37 UK
France 'ready' for role in Iraq
Bernard Kouchner and Jalal Talabani
Mr Talabani (R) described Mr Kouchner's visit as "historic"
France is ready to help Iraq and will push to expand the United Nations' work there, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said during a landmark visit.

Speaking after talks with several Iraqi leaders, Mr Kouchner said the UN was only part of the solution, and Iraqis must come together to restore peace.

France's disagreement with the US over Iraq was now in the past, he said.

His visit marks the first time a French minister has been to Iraq since France opposed the US-led invasion in 2003.

Franco-US relations warmed after Nicolas Sarkozy was elected French president.

'Historic opportunity'

On the second day of his three-day "fact-finding" visit, Mr Kouchner held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and Vice Presidents Tareq al-Hashemi and Adel Abdel Mahdi.

It is essential for France to listen to the Iraqis ... to preserve the sovereignty, the integrity and democracy in Iraq
Bernard Kouchner

At a joint press conference with Mr Talabani, Mr Kouchner said France was "ready to play a role in the fight against the violence" and would help the UN work to restore democracy in Iraq.

But he insisted that dialogue between Iraq's rival communities - in particular Shia, Sunni and Kurds - was critical.

"It is essential for France to listen to the Iraqis, to affirm that the solutions to their problems must be Iraqi, to listen to all the communities, to preserve the sovereignty, the integrity and democracy in Iraq," he said.

Mr Talabani said the visit was "an historic opportunity to promote French-Iraqi relations."

Mr Kouchner's visit is highly symbolic, correspondents say, and shows Mr Sarkozy wanted to create a "clear divide" between himself and predecessor, Jacques Chirac.

France has hosted several Iraqi leaders and has given its support to the process of political transition.

In 2003, Mr Kouchner was a rare French voice in refusing to condemn the US-led invasion, saying France had become "America-phobic".

Although Mr Sarkozy has described the war as a "mistake", he has also said France acted with "arrogance" before it began.

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