France could fully reintegrate into NATO next year: Sarkozy
President Nicolas Sarkozy signalled France's imminent return to NATO's military .
BUCHAREST, April 4, 2008 (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy signalled
Thursday France's imminent return to NATO's military command, which would end
a three decade rift with the transatlantic alliance.
"Everything in its own good time," Sarkozy answered a reporter who asked
whether France could return to the alliance's military structure at a 60th
anniversary NATO summit next year.
The president, attending this year's NATO summit in Bucharest, said
reintegration would have to be combined with progress in bolstering the
European Union's defence arm.
"Let Europe's defence pole advance and we will continue to advance toward
NATO. I repeat, these are two things that go together, not one or the other,
so let's wait for the summit" in 2009, he said.
According to a speech handed out by his office, Sarkozy had been ready to
tell NATO leaders here that France would decide when to reintegrate after its
presidency of the European Union ends on December 31.
"After the French presidency, the time will have come to conclude this
process, and to take the necessary decisions for France to take its full place
in the structures of NATO," the prepared speech said.
Sarkozy dropped the sentence when he delivered his remarks, but later told
AFP that he stood by the text of the speech.
France was a founder member of NATO, but then-president Charles de Gaulle
pulled out of the alliance's integrated military command in 1966.
The split had been developing for a number of years, as successive French
governments had become increasingly dissatisfied with what they perceived as
Anglo-American domination of the command structure and insufficient French
influence throughout the command.
Sarkozy's move to bring France back into the formal NATO fold comes amid a
certain amount of domestic opposition.
Several members of Sarkozy's own ruling party have protested what they see
as a betrayal of de Gaulle's legacy, while the opposition Socialists have
accused the president of sucking up to Washington.
Speaking to reporters in Bucharest alongside German Chancellor Angela
Merkel, Sarkozy welcomed the decision by US President George W. Bush to
support a boost in EU defences.
"The president of the United States made a declaration this morning on the
need for European defences that would complement the alliance, which was, in
my opinion, a historic turning point in US policy," he said.
"It was a gesture we have been waiting for, that has been noticed. It's a
gesture that shows understanding for what is happening in Europe."
Until recently, the United States and perhaps its closest European ally
Britain have been particularly reluctant to strengthen European defences, amid
concerns that the move would prove expensive and double-up on NATO
A French official warned against expecting too much progress.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves on the discussions about European
defence," the official told AFP.
"There is an opportunity coming up in 2009" at the summit. "Nothing's
certain but it is a possibility," he said.
The long-standing French rift with NATO has not stopped France
participating in alliance operations.
France took part in NATO deployments to the Balkans in the 1990s and
Sarkozy committed Thursday to expand its contingent in the NATO-led security
force in Afghanistan.