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American alterations soften France

Paris, June 8 (Reuters): France pledged today to back a UN resolution on the transfer of power in Iraq after the US and Britain made changes that addressed its concerns.

The decision by France, which has the power of veto on the UN Security Council and opposed the war in Iraq, cleared the way for Security Council approval later.

Foreign minister Michel Barnier said France was still not fully satisfied with the resolution but added: “This will not prevent us giving a positive vote in New York to constructively find a political way out of this tragedy.”

”For the first time in this matter there has been a real dialogue,” he told France Inter radio. “Our demands were listened to. A lot of our ideas are in the text.” France backed the text because it includes changes on Iraq’s powers on security and natural resources, sets a clear political calendar and lays out the relationship between the government and a multinational force in Iraq, diplomatic sources said.

Most diplomats expect a unanimous 15-0 vote when the council meets later. Germany and Spain said they would vote for the resolution.

US President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac discussed the text in Paris on Saturday and played down their differences over Iraq. They predicted the resolution would be passed soon, although Russia said it was not entirely happy.

China, another veto-wielding member of the Security Council, has welcomed changes made to the proposed text.

The resolution would give international legitimacy to a new Iraqi interim government and authorises a US-led multinational force, now at 160,000 troops.

At issue was how much control Baghdad’s new leaders would have over major US-run military operations after the June 30 transfer of power to Iraq’s new government.

France, backed by Germany, Algeria and others, had wanted the resolution to spell out that Iraq’s leaders could exercise a virtual veto over US-led “sensitive offensive operations.”

Washington rejected this but agreed to write a paragraph setting down the same relationship between Iraq and the US command contained in letters between Iraq and the US. The letters are part of the resolution’s annex but France and Germany wanted their content in the main text.

Barnier wanted to ensure that Iraq’s government has “all attributes of sovereignty, every possibility to control Iraq’s affairs — justice matters as well as natural resources — and that it will of course have a say in all security operations.”

“I am not sure the Americans are listening to us on this point...We would have wished for more details on what will happen in terms of stability. This is not sufficient reason for us to oppose this resolution,” he said

Washington has been seeking a vote early this week so that disputes over the resolution do not overshadow a summit by the Group of Eight industrial nations in Sea Island, Georgia.

Hostages freed

Special forces from the US-led coalition in Iraq raided a hideout south of Baghdad today and freed three Italian hostages held for almost two months and a Pole abducted last week, Italian officials said.

The three Italians were in good condition and were expected to return to Italy tomorrow.

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