France remains committed to helping rebuild Iraq, but will not drop its demand for the transfer of power into Iraqi hands for the chance to bid on lucrative reconstruction contracts, the defense minister told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Michele Alliot-Marie’s comments came after the Bush administration hinted it would lift a decision barring allies who opposed the Iraq war from participating in rebuilding contracts. Germany said Wednesday it would be “very happy” if the ban was lifted.
“We have expressed for a long time our availability to participate in Iraq’s construction,” Alliot-Marie said. “But obviously only if it is in the framework where the Iraqi authorities will get back their sovereignty and the ability to exercise their powers in full.”
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that a handful of countries, which he declined to name, may be eligible to bid for a wave of reconstruction contracts worth roughly $4.5 billion. His comments came after President Bush announced that Canada would be allowed to bid.
Alliot-Marie was expected to take up the issue during a meeting Thursday in Washington with Rumsfeld.
Quick transfer of power
France has been calling for a quick transfer of power to a provisional Iraqi government and a stronger U.N. role in the transition. Paris also wants a timetable for Iraq to have a constitution and hold general elections.
The United States has agreed with Iraqi leaders on a July 1 deadline to create a provisional government and temporary constitution. Later, elections would be held to create permanent structures.
In Berlin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Germany believes Iraq’s reconstruction — including the awarding of contracts — is a joint international task.
“If this view became a general one and were reflected in the awarding practice of U.S. authorities, we would be very happy,” spokesman Walter Lindner said.
France was one of the most persistent critics of the U.S. decision to wage war in Iraq, and has repeatedly called for a speedy transfer of power from U.S. control to Iraqis.
Last month, after Congress approved $18.6 billion in Iraq reconstruction money, Bush said he would limit eligibility to countries that had helped militarily or had made other major contributions as “coalition partners.” The decision outraged France and other nations that refused to send troops to Iraq.