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French government wins confidence vote over NATO

FRENCH President Nicolas Sarkozy's government yesterday won a parliamentary confidence vote prompted by his plans to rejoin NATO's military command, which many legislators fear would compromise France's independence.

Lawmakers voted 329 to 238 in favor of the government's foreign policy following hours of heated debate over France's role in NATO in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

Conservative Prime Minister Francois Fillon proposed the no-confidence motion amid heavy opposition from both the left and right to boosting ties with NATO.

Seeking consensus, Fillon announced that in exchange for returning to the alliance's military command, France would "doubtless" be given a key command in Norfolk, Virginia. It was the first time an official confirmed reports that Paris could get the prestigious post.

"We want to take our place where the future of NATO is discussed," Fillon said of the Norfolk post.

Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of NATO's military command in 1966, seeking a less US-oriented policy during the Cold War. Sarkozy says it is time to climb back into NATO's control room, arguing that the end of the Cold War and cross-border threats such as terrorism have heightened the need for international military cooperation.

But the prospect has ignited political tensions in a country that has long taken pride in setting its own diplomatic and defense direction.

"Our nation doesn't take orders from anyone," Fillon said in defending the move. "France will remain France, with its demand for truth and its demand for grandeur."

France remained a member of NATO, has a large force in Afghanistan and has increased its involvement in the alliance in recent years.

But it has remained a part-time player. Rejoining the military command would allow France to make key planning decisions within the alliance and put French officers in charge of command posts.

Sarkozy does not need parliamentary approval to rejoin, and has said he would send a letter soon to NATO's command announcing his decision.


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