PARIS (CNN) - After a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said Tuesday there was agreement that Iraq's $120 billion debt needs to be restructured.
Describing his reception by the French as "warm," Baker said, "We want to do what we can to reduce the oppressive debt burden on the Iraqi people so that they can enjoy freedom and prosperity, and we would like to do that in 2004 through the mechanism of the Paris Club."
Baker, who was sent to Europe by President Bush in an effort to get Iraq's foreign debt forgiven or restructured, met with Chirac for about 45 minutes.
He gave no details of how the debt might be restructured.
After the meeting, Baker left for Germany, where he will meet with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told a visiting Iraqi delegation Monday that France was willing to work with them to restructure the debt.
Of the $120 billion, about $40 billion is owed to the Paris Club, a group of 19 nations that have loaned money to Iraq.
The club "is an informal group of official creditors whose role is to find coordinated and sustainable solutions to the payment difficulties experienced by debtor nations," its Web site says.
Many of the nations have indicated they would like to restructure rather than forgive the debt, citing the fact that Iraq is a wealthy country with large oil reserves that should, in the future, be able to repay its loans.
France opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq. In addition, U.S.-French relations were strained when the Pentagon put out a list that shuts France and a number of other nations out of the opportunity to bid on $18.6 billion in Iraqi reconstruction contracts.
That Pentagon list came out the day before Bush called Chirac, asking him to see Baker to discuss Iraq's debt.
-- From CNN Correspondent Jim Bittermann