Kurdish president Masoud Barzani (C) welcomes French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) and French Defence Minister Florence Parly (R) ahead of their meeting on August 26, 2017, in Erbil. Photo AFP / Safin Hamed
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly met with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani and KRG officials in Erbil on Saturday, emphasizing France’s strong relations, saying that France is a friend of choice to Erbil in times of peace and war.
The two discussed the ongoing war against ISIS and the Kurdistan independence referendum, a statement from the Kurdish presidency said.
It is the first high profile visit of a French delegation to Erbil since the election of President Emmanuel Macron in May.
The visiting delegation said that relations between the two nations would remain strong no matter who fills the positions of the French presidency or that of the prime ministry, the Kurdish-language statement read.
This means that the Franco-Kurdish ties will stay as strong as they were under former French President Francois Hollande.
France is a member of the US-led Global Coalition against ISIS and has been supporting the Kurdish Peshmerga against the extremist group since 2014.
The statement said that the French foreign minister affirmed that his country will stay committed to supporting the Kurdish Peshmerga and that French forces will stay in Kurdistan.
“[Foreign Minister] stated that France supported Kurdistan in the time of war and will be with Kurdistan in the time of peace,” the statement read.
It said that the foreign minister expressed the position of France with regard to the independence referendum scheduled for September 25.
The statement did not explain the position of France, a member of the UN Security Council. It added though that the delegation hoped dialogue will continue between Erbil and Baghdad until they reach a mutual understanding that will be acceptable to both sides.
Baghdad considers the referendum "unconstitutional."
Speaking to Rudaw in May after France elected Macron as president, French Consul General in Erbil Dominique Mas said that the friendship that exists between France and the Kurdistan Region was very important and will remain as it was under Hollande.
Earlier in the day, the French delegation met with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, foreign minister, and other Iraqi officials.
The French delegation delivered a letter from the French president to PM Abadi inviting him to visit France, a statement from the office of the Iraqi PM read.
France plays an important role in the fight against ISIS, said Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari in a press conference in Baghdad following a meeting with the French ministers.
Commenting on the ongoing Tal Afar operation, Jaafari claimed that 70 percent of territory in the Tal Afar region had been reclaimed from ISIS in just one week of the offensive.
Le Drian said that France will continue to support the Iraqi government in all fields, notably the fight against terrorism.
"As long as our common enemy has not been eradicated, France will continue to take part" in the campaign, said Parly, according to France 24.
The French ministers’ visit follows close on the heels of US Defense Secretary James Mattis and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to both Baghdad and Erbil.
Le Drian told reporters on board the plane that Iraq is now in the phase between the end of war and the beginning of stabilization.
France is one of the main partners of the US-led coalition against ISIS.
Kurdistan considers France a friend and ally. The two have a long history of close relations.
Danielle Mitterrand, first lady of France in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, advocated for the Kurds suffering under Saddam Hussein’s brutal tactics and was instrumental in campaigning for the no-fly zone that effectively allowed the Kurdistan Region to develop its current autonomy. She is affectionately known as the Mother of Kurds.
France was one of the first countries to open a consulate in the Kurdish capital Erbil after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.
In September 2014, only a month after the Kurds had started pushing back ISIS from the gates of their autonomous region in northern Iraq, then President Francois Hollande became the first world leader to visit the Kurdish region and pledge his country’s support.
Many Kurdish students study at and have graduated from French universities in the last several years, while a French cultural and language center in Erbil hosts events and language courses throughout the year.