INTERNATIONAL

Franco-U.S. ties on the mend

Paris May 22. There was a significant improvement in Franco-American ties today with France's decision to vote in favour of the new U.N. resolution on Iraq.

The French decision to give the resolution its wholehearted support coincided with the arrival in Paris of the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, the senor-most U.S. official to visit France since relations became strained following French opposition to the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

The tense atmosphere between Paris and Washington eased on Thursday when the French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, said that France would back the resolution. "We can consider that the U.N. is back, and at bottom that is now the key issue: to make sure that the U.N. can resume its place. In the handling of the Iraq crisis we are convinced that the U.N. alone is capable of bringing its legitimacy, experience and effectiveness on the ground,'' he said.

Gen. Powell is in Paris for a two-day preparatory meeting of Foreign Ministers from the world's most industrialised nations prior to the G-8 summit to be held in the French town of Evian from June 1-3.

It is hoped that this meeting and the summit to follow will help overcome the deep divisions sparked by the Iraq war.

Gen. Powell and the Foreign Ministers of Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, Russia and host country France, are to discuss the post-war reconstruction in Iraq, international security and the war on terrorism, the West Asia crisis, issues of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction with special emphasis on Iran and North Korea.

But although the atmosphere is expected to be relaxed and cordial following a decision by France, Germany and Russia to support the U.S.-sponsored resolution on the future of Iraq and the lifting of sanctions, Gen. Powell will face lingering anger and resentment over the U.S. President, George W. Bush's decision to mount the invasion to topple the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein. He may find it difficult to impose the primacy of the U.S. agenda at the upcoming Group of Eight summit.

Mr. Villepin cited the nomination of a U.N. "special representative,'' which is stipulated in the resolution, as a sign of the U.N.'s increased role.

"At the start there was only talk of a `co-ordinator,' of someone whose job was just to watch developments from the sidelines. But now there's a political role, an independent role,'' he said.

The resolution will lead to an immediate lifting of the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990 and put its oil revenues into a new development fund. It also calls on the U.S. and British forces to help set up an interim Iraqi-run administration. Mr. De Villepin said at a joint news conference with his German and Russian counterparts, Mr. Joschka Fischer and Mr. Igor Ivanov, in Paris that the three would vote for the proposed U.S.-British resolution despite some remaining concerns.

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