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France, Germany May Be Asked to Send Troops to Iraq - 2003-07-10

The possibility appears to be growing that two of Europe's staunchest opponents of the war on Iraq - France and Germany - may be invited to send troops to help stabilize the country in this post-war era. France, for one, has not ruled out such an option.

In a wide-ranging interview published Thursday in France's Le Figaro newspaper, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said France would agree to send troops to Iraq only as part of a larger United Nations peacekeeping force, created under a clear Security Council mandate.

Mr. de Villepin conceded that it appeared inconsistent for France to help secure stability in the country in the wake of a war it adamantly opposed. He also suggested that the United Nations take charge of Iraq's security and political reconstruction - tasks currently being carried out by the United States and Britain.

Mr. de Villepin's remarks are only the latest suggestion that France and Germany may eventually be invited to send peacetime forces to Iraq. In an appearance before the U.S. Senate Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that another multilateral institution, NATO, could play a greater role in Iraq, and that might include German and French troop participation.

In separate remarks published Monday, the U.S. ambassador to France, Howard Leach, told one French newspaper that a French military presence in Baghdad "could not be excluded." Several U.S. senators have also suggested France and Germany should play a role in stabilizing the country.

Trans-Atlantic relations chilled rapidly earlier this year over France's strident opposition to the war in Iraq, plus efforts by Paris to build international resistance to military intervention. And although French and U.S. officials say ties are now on the mend, relations are still far from perfect.

Sending French troops to Iraq may offer another opportunity to improve trans-Atlantic relations, according to analyst Philippe Moreau Defarges. Mr. Defarges, who works at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris, believes that stabilizing Iraq is in French interests as well.

"The situation in Iraq is very difficult. And probably in the next week or the next month, it will not improve," he said. "That's why, even if France disagreed with U.S. policy, it has common interest in preventing Iraq from falling into chaos. That's why France, as a responsible power, must do what it can to help prevent that. It's clear the Middle East is a very sensitive question ... and no Western country has any interest in seeing this region falling into chaos."

Mr. Defarges believes it will not be difficult for French President Jacques Chirac to persuade his public that France must now play a role in Iraq. But for the moment at least, a French military presence in Baghdad remains mere speculation.