By Amir Taheri, Special to Gulf News
One of the key promises that Nicolas Sarkozy had made during his presidential election campaign last spring was to "correct" foreign policy "mistakes" made by his predecessor Jacques Chirac.
Sarkozy's moves to correct the mistake started even before his election when he met President George W. Bush at the White House in 2006 and described Chirac's policy as "arrogant".
The surprise visit paid to Iraq by France's new Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner this week is another move by Sarkozy to shed Chirac's disastrous legacy.
No better man than Kouchner could have been chosen to signal France's change of policy. For Kouchner is one of a handful of people in the West who recognised the murderous nature of Saddam's regime and called for its overthrow as early as the 1980s.
For years, Medecins Sans Frontiers, known in English as "The French Doctors", the organisation that Kouchner and his friends founded, was one of the few Western charities that publicised the sufferings of the Iraqi people.
Kouchner's visit, full of symbolism, shatters one of the key points in Al Qaida's analysis: that the Western powers will never find enough unity to develop a common strategy against terror.
Now, however, both Chancellor Angela Merkel and Sarkozy understand the stark fact that the perception of Western disunity may be one of the factors that prolongs the conflict in Iraq.
Beyond its obvious symbolic and psychological value, France's change of position on Iraq could also have a number of practical positive effects.
Free of constant French diplomatic sniping, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) could fully honour its commitment to help train the new Iraqi army and police force.
The European Union could review its policy towards new Iraq in a positive way, starting by inviting the new Iraqi leaders and treating them as the legitimate elected representatives of their people. With French opposition no longer a factor, the EU could open an office in Baghdad and appoint a special emissary.
The new French policy on Iraq could also inspire a change of attitude in Moscow. With Schroeder and Chirac gone, Putin may find it harder to pursue an Iraq policy based on nostalgia for Saddam and petty enmity towards the US.
New diplomatic trend
France's return to Iraq strengthens the new diplomatic trend in favour of a positive attitude towards the new Iraqi regime. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are among several Arab countries that have decided to reopen their embassies in Baghdad and extend official invitations to the new Iraqi leadership.
The dramatic change symbolised by Kouchner's visit to Iraq may have yet another positive effect. It sends a strong signal to the Islamic Republic in Tehran that it can no longer count on Western divisions to enable it to ignore the UN Security Council's resolutions. At the same time, the mullahs may re-think their current strategy of "bleeding the coalition" in Iraq.
The French change of attitude in Iraq destroys one of the key arguments of all those in the US who opposed the liberation of Iraq. The argument is that by toppling Saddam, the US alienated some of its key allies, notably France.
Finally, French cooperation will also allow the US-led coalition to envisage an expanded role for the UN in Iraq. In time a new policy can be developed under which the UN will assume the task of protecting Iraq against its internal and external enemies over the period of two to three years needed for new Iraq to defend itself.
Iranian author Amir Taheri is based in Europe.