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France to forgive some Iraq debt

From CNN Correspondent Jim Bittermann

De Villepin spoke after meeting Iraqi officials Monday.
De Villepin spoke after meeting Iraqi officials Monday.

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PARIS, France (CNN) -- France is willing to work with Iraq to forgive some of its debt, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin says.

All totaled, Iraq owes foreign governments around $120 billion. France is one of Iraq's major debt-holders, but just how much debt the country would be willing to forgive was not disclosed Monday.

De Villepin specifically referred to $19.8 billion owed to the so-called "Club of Paris," a group of first world nations that have loaned Iraq money in the past. Of that total, $3 billion of the debt is owed to France.

De Villepin spoke with reporters following meetings with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the current head of the Iraqi Governing Council, and other Iraqi officials.

His remarks come as former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker heads for Europe at the request of President Bush to ask Iraq's major creditors to forgive Iraq's debts.

In addition to being willing to forgive part of Iraq's debt, France also announced it will launch a number of programs dealing with education, health and the training of police forces in Iraq.

Al Hakim praised France, which he said was the first country to call for renewed Iraqi sovereignty.

Kurdish leader Jalal Talibani, also a member of the governing council delegation which met with French officials, cited democracy and human rights as common values shared by the Iraqi people and the people of France.

France was among a number of European countries -- divided over the war in Iraq -- who joined members of the coalition to celebrate the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Germany, Russia as well as France -- all nations strongly opposed to the Iraq conflict -- said they hoped Saddam's capture could foster stability and democracy in Iraq and reconcile the world community. (Full story)

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