France Seeks Big Role in Post-War Iraq
2 hours, 50 minutes ago
By KIM HOUSEGO, Associated Press Writer
PARIS - Worried it could be shut out of business deals in postwar Iraq (news - web sites), France is drawing up plans to win French companies access to lucrative oil and reconstruction contracts, officials said Tuesday.
The government is determined that French companies will be part of rebuilding Iraq, despite President Jacques Chirac's vigorous opposition to the war, a Finance Ministry official said.
Gilles Munier, an executive board member of the French-Iraq Association for Economic Cooperation, said business leaders and government representatives were studying how to gain a foothold in postwar Iraq.
He said a meeting between France's most powerful business federation, government leaders and the French-Iraq Association for Economic Cooperation was scheduled for April 3.
The Finance Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed discussions were underway with business leaders about Iraq.
Some French are concerned that a U.S.-led administration in Iraq will favor companies from the United States and other pro-war countries while penalizing companies from France and other war opponents.
The Bush administration awarded a $4.8 million contract Monday to a Seattle-based company to rebuild Iraq's only deep-water port. Washington is expected to announce similar deals soon.
Officials in Paris say French firms' experience in working in Iraq would be an advantage.
French companies-many with ties to Baghdad stretching back decades-have established themselves as the largest suppliers of goods to Iraq since a U.N. trade embargo was partially lifted in 1996.
In 2001, France exported $705 million worth of goods to Iraq within the framework of the United Nations (news - web sites)' now-frozen oil-for-food program. Communications equipment maker Alcatel clinched a $75 million contract to upgrade Baghdad's phone network, and Renault sold $75 million worth of tractors and farming vehicles to Iraq.
French oil giant TotalFinaElf probably has the biggest stake. It spent six years in the 1990s doing preparatory work on two giant oil fields and has signed two tentative agreements with Saddam to develop them.
Munier said he believes American companies will have difficulties in Iraq because of widespread anger against the U.S.-led bombing campaign.
"I don't see how American executives can work when their lives will be at risk," he said. "There will be such hatred toward Americans."
Munier criticized French companies for negotiating with American companies for a piece of their businesses in Iraq, saying that such "collaboration" would damage the image of French business among Iraqis.
Differences over how to run Iraq after the war have put added strain on already tense relations between the United States and several European countries.
France opposes any U.S. reconstruction plan that would sideline United Nations development agencies, multilateral organizations and non-governmental aid groups.
Chirac has warned that France would vote against any U.N. Security Council resolution that would give "the American and British belligerents the right to administer Iraq."