"We are already working on the possibility of responding in the
area of security, in particular through the creation of a school for gendarmes or by training police," de Villepin said on Friday in his New Year's greetings to the press. 

"We will see what the Iraqi authorities are asking for in terms of security" once sovereignty has been handed over in June, the minister said. 

"We will clarify our position once a government has been formed in Iraq," he added. 

'Not on table'

But de Villepin was firm in saying the idea of sending French troops to Iraq was "not currently on the table." 

"For us, the issue of the current political void is at the heart
of the Iraqi question," the French foreign minister told reporters. 

Until now, France - which staunchly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein - has only spoken of offering non-military aid to the country, such as a team of police instructors. 

But after talks in Washington on Thursday with US Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, French Defence Minister Michele
Alliot-Marie said she believed there was a "real willingness to turn the page on tensions between the United States and France." 

"I really had the impression that the situation had become
unfrozen and that there was a desire to resume normal relations," said Alliot-Marie. 

Military contingent

"We are already working on the possibility of responding in the area of security, in particular through the creation of a school for gendarmes or by training police."

Dominique de Villepin
French Foreign Minister

Quoting an unnamed aide to French President Jacques Chirac, Le Monde reported on Thursday that Paris was mulling sending a military contingent to Iraq to serve in a UN-mandated multinational force, but only after a transfer of sovereignty. 

According to a 15 November agreement between the United States and the interim Iraqi Governing Council, a transitional assembly selected by regional caucuses is to name a provisional Iraqi government by the end of June. 

Any French deployment would depend on a number of factors
including a clear request from a sovereign Iraqi government and a new willingness by the United Nations to re-engage in Iraq after the attack on its Baghdad headquarters in August and its subsequent withdrawal, Le Monde said.