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France Attempts to Mend Relations with US - 2003-04-30

France renewed efforts to mend frayed ties with the United States, suggesting disagreements over the war on Iraq are part of the past.

France's foreign minister said the time for diplomatic disputes, like most of the fighting in Iraq, is over. He said it was time to look forward. Mr. de Villepin said the international community must now work together to secure peace, not only in Iraq, but in the rest of the Middle East.

Mr. de Villepin said the United States and France share similar objectives, not only in resolving Middle East crises, but in a host of other international issues as well.

He said it is important that peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians begin as quickly as possible, and for both sides to make key concessions. He also called for similar concessions from Lebanon and Syria, including the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.

The French Foreign Minister, who was in Damascus earlier this month, said President Bashar al Assad had received that message, and shown willingness to work for peace in the region.

Mr. de Villepin also suggested France and Europe must play a key role in post-war Iraq. But U.S. officials have said coalition countries will have the major role.

The French Foreign Minister also defended another controversial French position, an agreement with Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg to form a joint defense command. Mr. de Villepin said the group does not intend to impose a defense agenda on the rest of Europe. Other European countries have criticized the four-country move for being outside the NATO and European Union framework.