PARIS — During a brief stopover in Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged African countries to take over French military operations in Mali as soon as possible, saying it was critical the region find African solutions to its problems.
Kerry praised France's military operation in Mali, a country which, in his words, had been unraveling in a dangerous way. He said the U.S. was providing transportation, intelligence and other support to the French-led offensive against Islamist militants in northern Mali.
At a news conference with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, though, Kerry said neither the United States nor France wanted to remain in the region for the long haul.
"There has to be an African solution, ultimately. And our shared goal now should be that African and U.N. entities step up, so that France has the ability to step back," said Kerry.
Paris has said French forces will remain in Mali as long as necessary. But the government also is pushing for African forces to take over the operation, possibly under an eventual U.N. peacekeeping umbrella.
On Tuesday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French troops were involved in very violent fighting with extremists in northern Mali and it was too early to talk about a quick pullout. The operation has so far cost Paris more than $133 million. French officials also fear for the lives of roughly half a dozen French hostages held in the region.
Fabius described several aspects involved in solving Mali's problems: eradicating terrorist groups, holding democratic elections, having dialogue between the north and the south, and stimulating economic growth. Like Kerry, he said the final answer lay with Mali and its neighbors.
"It is clear that at the end of the day, it belongs to the Malian people and the Africans to take into their own hands their future," said Fabius.
The two men spoke at the end of Kerry's stopover in France, where the new Secretary of State also discussed Syria, Iran, free trade and climate change with top officials, including French President Francois Hollande. Kerry is on a nine-nation tour that takes him next to Italy.