NATO chief hails Anglo-French defence pact

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NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed Thursday a landmark military pact between France and Britain, saying it showed the way for other countries to strengthen their defences while cutting costs.

Rasmussen also said he was confident that London would meet its military commitments to the NATO alliance, including in Afghanistan, despite recent drastic cuts in defence spending by Britain's coalition government.

Speaking after meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, he said he "warmly welcomed" this week's Anglo-French pact to create a joint military force and share nuclear testing facilities and an aircraft carrier.

The deal, signed by Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday, was "an excellent example of how we can strengthen our defence, even during a period of budgetary restraint," Rasmussen told reporters.

The two treaties were dubbed the "entente frugale" by British papers since they were widely seen as driven by financial presssures in both countries, which are seeking to maintain their status as global players.

Britain's coalition government said last month it would shrink its armed forces and scrap key assets such as its flagship aircraft carrier as part of eight percent cuts to its defence budget.

The country is making cuts across the board as it seeks to tackle a huge deficit.

"I feel confident that the UK will be able to fulfil her commitments within our alliance," Rasmussen said.

"The UK will stay committed to our international operations, like the one in Afghanistan, and I would also remind you that the UK is still one of the allies that fulfil the NATO target to spend at least two percent of GDP on defence."

Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, making it the second largest contributor to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force after the United States.

The White House said last month it was also confident that Britain would continue to have a "first-rate military" despite the cuts, which will see 17,000 armed forces personnel cut.

© 2010 AFP

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