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Sarkozy fervid on France's return to NATO core

FRANCE President Nicolas Sarkozy forcefully defended his intention to return to the heart of NATO's military command after 43 years away and insisted on Wednesday that staying outside the alliance's highest echelons would weaken France.

Sarkozy said he would write to other NATO members to announce his decision after a debate next week in the French parliament.

The French leader's drive to end the rift with the United States over its participation in NATO has aroused old passions among both leftist and some conservative lawmakers fearful that a closer relationship with the American-led alliance could limit France's cherished ability to act independently on the world stage.

In a speech on Wednesday, however, an animated and at times defiant Sarkozy insisted that France's "independence will not be in question" ?? a clear message to critics at home ?? and said France will maintain control over its nuclear arsenal.

In 1966, then French President Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of the NATO command and evicted all allied troops and bases to assert sovereignty over its territory.

France is a NATO member, but has remained outside the central decision-making core for four decades.

"The time has come to put an end to this situation," Sarkozy said, arguing that new threats require greater international military cooperation, not less. "It is in France's interest and that of Europe. In concluding this long process, France will be stronger and more influential."

Sarkozy lamented that France has no major command in NATO and did not participate in defining top-level strategy or military objectives even though it has troops under NATO command.

He rejected opposition criticism that France would be forced to follow the alliance's line even on military missions it opposed.


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