Paris: French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner apologised on Monday for having said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki should be replaced.
Maliki had on Sunday demanded an apology from Kouchner for the comments he made to Newsweek magazine.
"If the Prime Minister Mr Maliki wants me to apologise for having interfered in Iraqi affairs in such a direct way, of course I will do it," Kouchner said on RTL radio.
"But again that doesn't change the facts. I'm not the only one to present a few criticisms ... I should have said, again, I repeat ... that those were the words of the people I spoke to
and if it was badly interpreted, I'm sorry."
He has just returned from a visit to Iraq which was the first by a top French official since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which France opposed.
In an interview with Newsweek magazine's Sept. 3 edition, published on its Web site, Kouchner was quoted as saying Maliki should be replaced, possibly by Shi'ite Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
"Many people believe the prime minister ought to be changed. I don't know if that will go through, though, because it seems President Bush is attached to Mr Maliki. But the government is not functioning," Kouchner was quoted as saying.
He said he had told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "listen, he's got to be replaced". He added that he planned to meet Rice in a few days.
In a separate opinion piece published on Monday, Kouchner said Iraq needed a broad-based government of national unity and France could be a mediator to help set one up.
Kouchner said it was important to plan a withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.
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