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NATO chief hopes for French return at summit in April

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Jan 19, 2009
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer expressed hope Monday that France would announce its full return to the alliance's military structures at a summit in France and Germany in April.

"I hope that Strasbourg-Kehl (summit) might be the moment in which we can welcome France's move to take its full place again in NATO, in particular in the military structure," he told reporters in Brussels.

"I think that would be fitting at a summit taking place in the heart of Europe," he said, adding: "France is a very important member participating in all NATO operations."

France is rumoured to be ready to announce its intention to return fully into NATO at the summit in the neighbouring cities, but it has made the move conditional on Europe's defence capacities being strengthened.

France was a founding member of NATO, but then president Charles de Gaulle pulled out of the alliance's integrated military command in 1966.

The split developed over many years, as successive French governments became increasingly dissatisfied with what they perceived as Anglo-American domination of the command structure and insufficient French influence.

France has since sought to ensure that Europe can stand alone if it must.

A senior US official also welcomed France's probable return, saying that such a move could help end squabbling between NATO and the EU over whether their duties and capabilities are over-lapping.

"France is a close ally and we want to work as closely together as possible, and being together in the integrated structures makes that easier," the official told AFP.

"It also, I think, will put to rest any sense of competition between ESDP (European Security and Defence Policy) and NATO," he said.

"We've tried hard to put that to rest. In Brussels and Paris others have done that as well, and French integration will just draw a line under that."

He added: "It's in our interests to have capabilities, and to have them be developed in a transparent and flexible way so they can support NATO when it's a NATO-led operation, they can support the EU when it's an EU-led operation, and get away from any sense of competition."

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