The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has ended a two-day visit to New Caledonia with a commitment to respect whatever path the territory decides to choose.
In a public address in suburban Noumea, Mr Sarkozy said while he favoured New Caledonia remaining with France, he would respect the outcome of a possible referendum on self-determination planned between 2014 and 2018.
He says the French state will assist the territory preparing its future in all impartiality.
Observers say Mr Sarkozy has become the first president to speak of relations between France and New Caledonia as a partnership.
The French president also warned against the resurgence of violence in a response to the fatal shootings on the island of Mare three weeks ago.
During his stay, he also visited the five-billion US dollar Koniambo nickel project in the territory's north and officially opened the Pacific Games.