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Cablegate: French Mfa "Reflecting" On Implications Of

DE RUEHFR #3534/01 2361500
O 241500Z AUG 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 003534



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/24/2017

Classified By: Political Minister-Councelor Josiah Rosenblatt for reaso ns 1.4. (b), (d).

1. (C) Summary: French FM Kouchner's visit to Iraq allowed
France to re-engage meaningfully with a wide range of Iraqi
political and confessional/ethnic leaders and left Kouchner
"moved" by the extent of destruction in that country. The
French MFA told us August 24 that Kouchner and his staff are
still "reflecting" over the visit as they decide how to
follow up. Kouchner's interlocutors received his message of
solidarity and desire to help with appreciation. Kouchner
also took pains to dissociate his visit from the USG and
denied any link to the meeting in Maine between Presidents
Bush and Sarkozy. The MFA denies Kouchner formally offered
to organize a dialogue among Iraqis and believes the press
has exaggerated the importance of some public musing on
Kouchner's part. France will reach out to the EU in support
of a new multilateral initiative. The MFA expects to be in
touch with the USG as well, although it may wait to see how
things play out in Washington in response to the Petraeus
report. The contours of French thinking should be clearer by
the time of the UNGA, which will be no coincidence given
Kouchner's desire to place the UN at the head of a
multinational effort for Iraqi reconstruction. One concrete
result of the visit was Kouchner's decision to proceed with
stalled plans to establish a French "embassy office" in
Irbil; for budget and other administrative reasons, however,
it is unclear when it will be set up. End summary

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2. (C) French MFA Iraq desk officer Olivier Masseret
provided a readout August 24 of FM Kouchner's visit to Iraq
August 19-21. His main points, a number of which have been
made in the press, included:

--The visit was entirely at Kouchner's initiative and was in
no way tied to the meeting in Maine between Presidents Bush
and Sarkozy. Masseret recalled Kouchner's longstanding ties
to Kurdish leader and current former President of Iraq Jalal
Talabani, who had been pressing Kouchner to visit since
Kouchner became foreign minister.

--Making it clear that the visit in no way occurred at the
request of the U.S. or in furtherance of U.S. policies was
something Kouchner stressed with each of his interlocutors.
Masseret complained that it has been hard to shake the press
from the false but understandable impression that Presidents
Bush and Sarkozy had discussed or approved the visit when
they met in Maine. Kouchner also carried with him a copy of
an editorial he wrote before the March 2003 invasion entitled
"Neither Saddam nor War" to correct the misimpression that
Kouchner had supported U.S. military force to remove Saddam

--Kouchner's jam-packed schedule included meetings with
nearly every political leader and just about every
confessional grouping. Masseret indicated that Kouchner knew
he had some work to do rebuilding France's image. This
included dispelling the notion that France still harbors some
nostalgia for the days when Iraq's Sunnis dominated the
political scene. Masseret sought to correct the
misimpression that Kouchner only had contacts among Kurds to
say that this visit revealed to many for the first time that
he was well known in all the major ethnic and confessional

--Iraqi leaders responded well to Kouchner's core message of
solidarity with the Iraqi people's suffering, readiness to
listen and help, and commitment to turning the page in the
Iraqi/French relationship. There was some grousing about
France's policy under President Chirac, but even that seemed
pro forma. If anything, according to Masseret, the angriest
sentiment Iraqis expressed was that France had waited so long
after Saddam Hussein's fall to re-engage meaningfully.

--If anything impressed Kouchner, it was the absolute
devastation that marked Iraq in all spheres, especially the
economic and social. This fueled Kouchner's view, as
expressed publicly, that Iraq's ongoing crisis was not merely
a national tragedy but a catastrophe whose already dramatic
regional implications are only increasing. Masseret said it
may seem simplistic, but the visit was an eye-opening and
moving experience for Kouchner. In particular, the plight of
Iraq's Christians touched Kouchner because of the escalating
persecution they seem to face. (Comment: This was a point
Kouchner made in an interview on one of the nightly national
newscasts. End comment)

3. (C) Kouchner and his staff are now reflecting on the
visit and trying to figure out what to make France's focus
and how best to rally European and other international
support. Masseret dismissed press speculation about a

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possible French-hosted gathering of Iraqi leaders along the
lines of the intra-Lebanese dialogue Kouchner initiated. He
explained that Kouchner did muse to reporters that France
would be open to creating a safe space for competing factions
to meet, but it was no more concrete than that. He denied
that Kouchner made the offer in his various meetings and
agreed that President Talabani's rejection of such an
initiative effectively took it off the table at least for
now. The bottom line for Kouchner, Masseret continued, was
that anything France does add real value and not appear to
another case of France off on its own pursuing objectives
that had no other buy-in.

4. (C) Masseret spoke of the UN angle, which is
symbolically and ideologically important to Kouchner. As
reported in the media, Masseret spoke of Kouchner's
insistence on arriving in Baghdad exactly four years after
the bombing of the UN compound that killed his friend Sergio
de Mello and many former colleagues from Kouchner's days
directing UN efforts in Kosovo. Kouchner further insisted
that his first official act in Bagdhad be the laying of a
wreath at the site of the bombing to honor the fallen. It
was not clear to Masseret how the UN will fit into Kouchner's
thinking, but press reports were right to highlight the key
role he will want it to play in any concerted multilateral

5. (C) How Europe will fit into French ideas for the way
forward in Iraq is a central aspect of evolving French
thinking. Masseret would not comment on press reports of
tepid responses by many of Kouchner's EU colleagues in
response to his encouragement that they follow his lead.
Europe, however, will be key should France seek to mobilize a
more robust UN presence and effort in Iraq. Although there
are no plans just yet, France will seek an appropriate EU
ministerial to discuss increased and concerted support for
Iraq. Masseret said that Kouchner will need to convince his
colleagues that this is not just another instance of France
going off on its own but something that has implications for
EU interests in the Middle East.

6. (C) Working with the U.S. is another subject under
discussion. Masseret said that Kouchner wants to consult
with the Secretary, as he did August 24, on a regular basis
but preserve France's independence. This includes its
ability to speak its mind when and as it deems necessary.
Agreeing that the visit arguably transformed the Iraq issue
from being a subject of disagreement to one about which we
could have a useful dialogue, the MFA will probably not have
recommendations on what to say to the U.S. until the current
"reflection" period ends. While not saying how long that
might last, he surmised that France will be ready to talk to
us and others about Iraq on the margins of the UNGA in late
September. Noting the release of the Petraeus report in
mid-September, Masseret expected it would inform French
thinking not merely for its content but also for its impact
on U.S. policy afterward.

7. (C) One area of U.S./French cooperation Masseret praised
effusively was the outstanding help provided for Kouchner's
visit by Baghdad Deputy Polcouns Rob Waller (on a one-year
TDY from his job as Paris NEA watcher). His role was vital
in ensuring coordination of security and other logistical
arrangements. (Comment: The acting director of the MFA's
equivalent to our NEA bureau echoed this point in a separate

8. (C) As a final note, Masseret confirmed tentative press
reporting that the MFA is now committed to the idea of
opening an "embassy office" in Irbil. He elaborated that it
would be lightly staffed -- a sort of "French presence post"
-- and not expected to handle consular duties (too few French
citizens in northern Iraq, no desire to take on visa work in
Irbil). When asked about the timeframe, Masseret was vague,
citing budgetary and other "administrative" issues that
needed to be worked out. Another problem arose after
Kouchner started informing his interlocutors of the office in
Irbil as Shi'a contacts pressed for a similar office in Basra
for "balance." Kouchner made a vague commitment to do what
he could, but Masseret stated the security situation in Basra
at the moment clearly ruled that idea out of the question.

Please visit Paris' Classified Website at:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/paris/index.c fm


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