Sarkozy Brings 'New Tone' on Role in NATO; Return to Military Wing Eyed

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Sarkozy Brings 'New Tone' on Role in NATO; Return to Military Wing Eyed


Byline: Elizabeth Bryant, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

PARIS - New hints that France may rejoin NATO's military wing after a 41-year absence underscore a stunning foreign-policy shift under President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Gone are the Iraq war diatribes, the Palestinian sympathies, the close ties with Moscow and the crumbling ones with Washington - all trademarks of French foreign policy under former President Jacques Chirac.

With his penchant for jogging, American movies and summering in New Hampshire, the 51-year-old Mr. Sarkozy has embraced a decidedly pro-U.S. tone, even as his government scores trans-Atlantic points through sharpened rhetoric against Iran and overtures to Iraq.

"France has definitely come closer to the United States since the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as president," said French analyst Dominique Moisi. "There's a new tone; there's a new style; there's a return of confidence. And of course, that does translate itself in the relationship between France and NATO."

The case for reassessing France's NATO membership was made last month by French Defense Minister Herve Morin.

Despite being the alliance's fourth-largest contributor, financing 11 percent of its budget, France "does not reap all the benefits, notably in terms of influence and in posts of command," Mr. Morin said during a September 11 speech at a military school in Toulouse.

"We will never, in my view, advance Europe's defense strategy if we don't clarify our position in NATO," Mr. Morin said.

In an interview with the New York Times last week, Mr. Sarkozy clarified Paris' conditions for rejoining. He sought Washington's acceptance of a European defense program and a top role for France in NATO's command structures.

"A Europe capable of defending itself independently would not be a risk for the Americans, it would be an asset," he told the newspaper.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, on his first visit to Washington, cautioned two weeks ago against "exaggerating the practical implications" of a possible shift, noting France's extensive contribution to NATO missions such as Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Mr. Kouchner said the French debate on NATO would be conducted "without taboo or haste" but would only move forward along with French hopes for a strong collective European defense. …

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