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President Sarkozy's visit to Baghdad

President Sarkozy’s visit to Baghdad

Published on February 10, 2009
Excerpts from a joint press conference by President Sarkozy and Mr. Nouri Al-Maliki, Prime Minister of the Republic of Irak.

Baghdad, February 10, 2009

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THE PRESIDENT: Just a few hours in Iraq are all it takes to convince someone of the Iraqis’ will to live. You can feel hope being reborn in Iraq.

Since 2003, France has maintained a continuous presence in Baghdad, even in the most difficult times. France welcomes the progress that has been made and the caliber of the work achieved by you, Mr. Prime Minister, and your government.

It was very important for me and Bernard Kouchner to come to Baghdad to pay tribute to you and to renew France’s commitment to you.

You have made courageous choices. Security has now been strengthened, and the Iraqis may once again have hope in the future.

France welcomes the diplomatic efforts of the Iraqi government to restore your country’s sovereignty. Since January 1, Iraq is no longer placed under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter. That is good news. It means that you no longer represent a threat to the world. International order is being restored. Iraq can count on France’s friendship to help bring about its full reintegration into the community of nations. The Iraqi people must not be punished for the misdeeds that were committed in its name by a dictator.

As you recently emphasized, Mr. Prime Minister, the success of Iraq’s provincial elections has just sent an incredible message to the world. The campaign was lively but remained calm, although it is regrettable that candidates and civil servants on the electoral commission were killed by those who do not believe in democracy. You said, Mr. Prime Minister, that election day was a holiday, “Iraq’s wedding with democracy.” The whole world rejoiced in the images of Iraq on that day. Democracy, Mr. Prime Minister, offers you new elected partners to bring about national reconciliation.

I am now going to visit three Gulf States. I will be able to tell them what I have seen here. A proud people, the Iraqi people, which wants to reassume responsibility for its own destiny. A working government that wants to rebuild its country. Iraq needs friends; it needs investors. The French prime minister and foreign minister will return to Iraq before the summer with a delegation of business leaders to participate in the reconstruction of your country. We are going to reinvest in a new embassy, in new consulates. I have made concrete aid and work proposals on defense, the military, the civilian sector, culture, the economy and of course, energy.

In conclusion, Mr. Prime Minister, I would like to tell you that no one should be frightened by an Iraq that stands on its own two feet. A strong Iraq guarantees balance in a region that sorely lacks it. We must therefore all work for Iraq’s recovery: France and Europe, but also the Arab states, and notably the Gulf States. Mr. Prime Minister, France wants to be among the closest friends of this new Iraq.

Q: France did not take part in the war to liberate Iraq. Iraq now enjoys full freedom and democracy. Does France’s desire to play a role here mean it wants to compete with the United States and the United Kingdom?

THE PRESIDENT: France wants to turn toward the future, not the past. The past was painful—first and foremost for the Iraqis, and it is of them we must think. France always maintained a diplomatic presence on Iraqi soil, even though we opposed the war. Today, France can serve as a bridge to promote reconciliation with the new Iraq. A diverse Iraq, reconciled with itself and looking toward the future.

I don’t see why there should be competition with our American friends. I have always been a friend of the United States, and I remain one. Friends may not always see eye to eye, but they remain friends. Iraq is a very large country with 30 million inhabitants. So you see, for Iraq, it is the best possible news that the great nations of the world—and France is one of them—are all taking part in rebuilding your country. You know, it’s very good news not to have to choose from among your friends, because they are so numerous. There was a time when Iraq didn’t have so many friends. The fact that you have friends throughout the world is very good news. As for France—and you are aware of its influence in Europe—Bernard Kouchner and I have come with a message not only from the French, but from all Europeans. Our American friends also need a Europe that is strong politically, militarily and economically, because today’s world is not unipolar, it is multipolar. Iraq will be a great country in the future, and must find its place within this multipolar system. France asks nothing other than the privilege to be a friend to Iraq, a sovereign Iraq, a democratic Iraq.

Q: France played a secondary role in recent years; what can it do now, concretely, for Iraq?

A: To my mind, France has never had a secondary role. France is a permanent member of the Security Council; France is a military and nuclear power; France plays a leading role in Europe; and naturally, it is toward France that its Iraqi friends are turning for help in regaining their full-fledged role on the international scene. France has always believed that one of the great catastrophes in the world would be a clash between East and West, and in its way, France has always tried, somehow, to straddle these two worlds. France, which has an Arab policy, which wants to be a friend to the Arabs and which, at the same time, is committed to preserving the security of the State of Israel; France, which believes in universal diplomacy, wants to help Iraq regain its position, because Iraq is important in this region. Why is this important? Because you are a multicultural, multiethnic country, and it is crucial that this land of diversity—a great asset for Iraq—remain a united country, not despite its diversity but because of it.

You can serve as an example in this part of the world where there is sometimes too little diversity. The partition of Iraq, the disappearance of Iraq would have been a great catastrophe, because Iraq must be a force for peace. Iraq’s disappearance from the international scene did not foster peace; it fostered confrontations and intolerance. A democratic Iraq that succeeds in preserving its diversity serves as an incredible example for the entire Middle East, and more generally, for the entire world.

That is enough of a reason for France to feel solidarity with Iraq, to want to stand by your side and to have an even greater presence starting now, particularly since you have a courageous government that organized democratic elections. And frankly, organizing democratic elections, holding them successfully in this region, after all the suffering endured by the Iraqi people, is a good lesson for the world. Perhaps even an example that might inspire others.

Q: Can you tell me in what specific sectors you would like France to intervene? For a long time, French businesses were unable to come because of the security situation; do French businesses now have a green light to return to Iraq?

A: The French government is issuing a very clear call to our businesses to return, to invest. In what sector? That’s up to our Iraqi friends to decide. But think of Total’s historic role in this country; think of the energy, competence and expertise of French businesses in the defense and armaments industries. As long as Iraq is a democracy, France sees no problem—to the contrary—helping the Iraqi government assume its full sovereignty. Finally, there’s water, sanitation, construction—so many things to do. Our businesses are among the best in the world, and that’s why we will build a new embassy and new consulates, and why, before the summer, the French prime minister and foreign minister will come to Iraq with a large delegation of business leaders. Iraq’s business must be carried out in Iraq, not necessarily in a neighboring capital.

So this is a commitment. By coming here with Bernard Kouchner, it may even serve as an example to our business leaders, saying to them: This is the moment, now’s the time to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq; now’s the time to help Iraq. Iraq has shouldered its responsibilities; the Iraqis want to turn the page on all those years of unhappiness; it’s up to us French to stand alongside our Iraqi friends.

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