[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 27 August 2007, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
France ready to apologise to Iraq
French Foreign Minister Kouchner
Mr Kouchner said there was strong support for Mr Maliki to quit
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has offered to apologise to Iraq if he had meddled in its affairs.

The statement comes a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki demanded an official apology because Mr Kouchner had suggested he resign.

Meanwhile President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for a clear timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

He was making what was described as his first major foreign policy speech since becoming president in May.

Mr Sarkozy said such a timetable would force the various Iraqi parties to accept responsibility for the country's future.

'Fresh look'

If the prime minister wants me to apologise for having interfered so directly in Iraqi affairs, I'll do it willingly
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner

Last week Mr Kouchner said the Iraqi government was "not functioning" and was quoted saying he had told the US that there was strong support in Iraq for Mr Maliki to resign and he "has got to be replaced".

In an interview with RTL radio on Monday, Mr Kouchner said: "I think that he [Mr Maliki] misunderstood, or that I was not clear enough that I was referring to comments I heard from Iraqis I talked to."

"If the prime minister wants me to apologise for having interfered so directly in Iraqi affairs, I'll do it willingly," he said.

Mr Kouchner visited Baghdad last week to promote France's role in efforts to solve the Iraq crisis and mend relations with Washington damaged by France's opposition to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

In an article in Monday's International Herald Tribune, Mr Kouchner said France was well-placed to "provide a fresh look" at Iraq.

"A broad-based government of national unity must be established," he wrote. "France is prepared to act as a mediator in this endeavour."

'Magnificent performance'

On Sunday, the White House welcomed a new pledge by Iraqi leaders to take steps to help national reconciliation.

Leading Shia, Kurdish and Sunni politicians signed a reconciliation deal on Sunday and held further talks where they reported progress towards agreement on holding provincial elections and easing a ban on former Baath party members.

But there was more criticism from US politicians, with Republican Senator John Warner saying Mr Maliki and his government had utterly failed to improve security while US troops had performed "magnificently".

Mr Warner said the Senate would wait for next month's update on the US troop surge, supposed give the Iraqi government extra time to make political progress, before making any moves.

But he added that US military support for Iraq's Shia-led government must be re-evaluated because of what he said was its failure to deliver greater security and sectarian reconciliation.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific