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France to take role in resolving Iraq's problem

Iraqi officials hope that France will take role in solving Arab country’s problems for Americans can’t do that on its own, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday.

Kouchner was speaking to French radio from Baghdad, where he arrived Sunday on a highly symbolic, surprise visit seen as marking a shift in France's relations with the United States and Iraq. It was the first visit by a top French official since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, which France fiercely opposed.

"It was necessary to be here," Kouchner said on RTL radio. "Everyone knows that the Americans cannot bring this country out of difficulty all alone."

Kouchner, who met with Iraq's president and two vice presidents, said the Iraqis are "expecting something" from France, without elaborating. Kouchner leaves Iraq on Tuesday.

"I believe that based on what plays out here, the world will be changed. ... And we should be there," he said.

Kouchner insisted the trip was made on his own initiative and was not prompted by new French President Nicolas Sarkozy's meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in Maine earlier this month.

"We didn't go through the Americans" for this trip, Kouchner said. He said he informed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a few hours before the journey, along with the German foreign minister and the Portuguese presidency of the European Union.

"We have distinguished ourselves very clearly from American policy and we were not supporters of the American intervention," he said, adding that France has a "very particular position" in Iraq.

Kouchner has faced criticism at home for the trip. Jean-Pierre Chevenement, a former Socialist government minister and presidential candidate, accused Kouchner of "repenting" before Bush for France's opposition to the war, and said the trip would wreck France's diplomatic reputation in the Arab world.

Kouchner shot back Tuesday, suggesting the comments meant Chevenement supported "bloodstained dictator Saddam Hussein."

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