WASHINGTON – Senior Defense Department officials told Fox News Friday that documents found inside Baghdad are pointing to Iraq's diplomatic communications with France and show detailed discussions about pending U.S. actions — up to and after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld commented on the French connection for the first time on Friday, though he remained vague about the content of the documents.
"France has historically had a very close relationship with Iraq. My understanding is that it continued right up until the outbreak of the war. What took place there after we'll find out," he said.
While France adamantly denies dealing with Iraq after the start of the war, multiple intelligence reports indicate the French may have helped some Iraqi leaders escape. The Washington Times was the first to report Wednesday that France offered visas to Iraqi officials who had fled to Syria. France denied those charges as well.
Asked if he believed France is harboring Iraqi leaders or helped Iraqi leaders escape coalition wrath, Rumsfeld said he read the reports, "but I don't have anything I can add to them."
State Department officials continue to say U.S. relations with France remain solid.
"We are allies. That means we work together. That means we do things together everyday. We have cooperated many days even with these disputes going on. We work against terrorism together," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
And France's defense minister urged her countrymen Thursday to make overtures to the United States to prevent ties from further deterioration.
But Pentagon officials are making their feelings clear — choosing to make only a token appearance at next month's Paris air show, the biggest in the world.
High-ranking military leaders have been told not to go. No U.S. military planes will fly in the show and U.S. defense contractors have been encouraged to give it the cold shoulder.
In coming weeks, tens of thousands of international troops are expected to arrive in Iraq to help provide security. France is being left out of postwar stabilization force discussions.
Rumsfeld said he doesn't know how long U.S. troops will be on the ground.
"Anyone who thinks they know how long it will take is fooling themselves. It's not knowable," he said.
Central Command leader Gen. Tommy Franks said dangerous situations lie ahead for troops in Iraq, but things are no worse than they were at the beginning of the war 52 days ago.
"I have a sense that stability in the Red Sea region and in the Persian Gulf neighborhood is certainly as good as it was the day this started," he said.
Seven weeks after the start of the war, Rumsfeld is asking for time and understanding.
"We have patience and we accept the fact that it's untidy and I hope that others can recognize that and accept it ... and put it into some historical context," he said.
As for the historical implications of France's dealings with Iraq — up to and during the war — Rumsfeld's special assistant for Europe, Evan Galbraith, warned in a recent interview, "The consequences of the rupture between France and the United States are going to be horrendous to French trade and business."
Fox News' Bret Baier contributed to this report.