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France to renew ties with Iraq

world Updated: Nov 17, 2009 01:12 IST

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France laid the groundwork on Monday for deeper ties with Iraq, signing two deals aimed at putting French know-how back in play in the country six years after Paris shunned the US-led war to topple Saddam Hussein.

The deals, one signed by the countries' foreign ministers, the other by defense ministers, came as Iraqi President Jalal Talabani arrived for a state visit to France intended as a sign that bilateral ties have been reborn.

"Our visit aims to reinforce bilateral relations," he told reporters after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the start of his four-day visit. "We want to reinforce and deepen ties in the political, military, cultural, petroleum, economic and commercial domains."

France's ambassador to Iraq, Boris Boillon, later explained to reporters that one accord set up a "judicial basis" for more cooperation in the defense arena, including armament sales, but that no concrete deals were struck.

The other, signed by foreign ministers, will lead to the creation of a French archaeological institute in Erbil, as well as a French agricultural center to help rebuild Iraqi farming and a French business center.

"Iraq needs to make investors and companies return," Boillon said, referring to the business center, which will provide security services and strategic advice. "This is a structure that is going to help companies return."

Boillon said the agreements are part of a renaissance in bilateral relations. He said they would be followed by accords on export credits and with France's development agency in coming days during Talabani's trip.

Boillon said no commercial deals would be signed during the visit, but that French companies were poised to reach deals on infrastructure, electricity and ports in Iraq in the near future. Talabani was greeted by French Industry Minister Christian Estrosi in a red-carpet welcome at Paris' Orly airport. Iraq's first Kurdish president has visited France several times since the 2003 war, but never with the pageantry of a state visit. France and Germany, two of the leading critics of the U.S.-led invasion that removed Saddam from power, began rebuilding ties with Iraq this year. French oil giant Total and EADS, the European aerospace and defense company, have been looking for new business with Baghdad.

The United States has dominated the Iraqi arms market since 2003. After Sarkozy's February trip to Iraq, the country bought a fleet of 24 helicopters from French-based Eurocopter, a branch of Airbus parent company EADS, for around $500 million.

Talabani is scheduled to meet with French lawmakers and business leaders, and to visit the Institute of the Arab World and the Arc de Triomphe, location of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After the traditional meeting with Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, Talabani was scheduled to make a speech Tuesday.

This year brought a flurry of back-and-forth visits between Paris and Baghdad. Besides Sarkozy's February trip, Prime Minister Francois Fillon traveled to Iraq in July. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came to France in May. France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, paved the way with visits to Iraq in 2007 and 2008.