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    France ready for strategic pact with Afghanistan

    KABUL (PAN): The French foreign minister has evinced his country's willingness to sign a long-term strategic agreement with Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai's office said on Tuesday.

    Alain Juppe expressed France's readiness for the pact at a meeting with Karzai in Bonn, where they participated in a day-long conference on Afghanistan's future.

    The key conference, attended by representatives from more than 115 countries and international organisations, pledged sustained support to Afghanistan.

    According to a statement from the president's office, Afghanistan and France are working on the long-term strategic pact, to be signed soon. The two leaders also discussed French support in different sectors.

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy, during a trip to Afghanistan on July 12, had proposed the strategic pact. Sarkozy had said France would continue supporting the Afghan government in areas of education, agriculture, economy, health and governance even after the completion of security transition in 2014.

    One of the closest allies of the United States, France has 3,700 combat troops in Afghanistan under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

    The French troops are mainly based in Kabul and Kapisa provinces. Since 2002, 75 French soldiers have been killed. The French government says it will withdraw 400 troops this year and the rest before 2014.

    The French foreign minister also invited Karzai to visit his country at the end of January 2012 for talks on the agreement, the statement concluded.

    frm/mud