PARIS — France will consider annulling part of Iraq's foreign debt, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Monday, indicating a new willingness to contribute to Iraq's transition after the capture of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.
De Villepin met with an Iraqi delegation headed by Abdelaziz Hakim, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, whose visit was arranged before U.S. forces caught Hussein.
Iraq owes about $40 billion to the 19 nations of the Club of Paris, a European economic entity. De Villepin said France would work with others in the group to determine the feasibility of forgiving part of the debt.
"France could then envision the appropriate annulments of debt compatible with Iraq's capacity for financing," De Villepin said in French media reports.
He also said that "French companies are ready to contribute to Iraq's development in satisfactory conditions" of transparency and accountability.
U.S.-French relations were strained by France's opposition to the U.S.-led Iraq war and its criticism of the U.S. stewardship of Iraq. France was among the European countries that complained last week when the Pentagon announced that only members of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq would be eligible to bid on reconstruction work there. But France has also signaled that it would like to ease tensions.
President Jacques Chirac is to meet with James A. Baker III, President Bush's envoy, today in Paris to discuss the Iraqi debt.