Another French move to get closer to US

The announcement by President Nicolas Sarkozy that France wants again to be a full member of the Washington-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is further proof of Sarkozy’s eagerness to improve ties with the government of US President George W Bush. France has been a NATO member since its creation in 1949, but has refused to put its military troops under US leadership since 1966, when former president General Charles de Gaulle took the French army out of the military chain of command.

Sarkozy has now set two conditions for France to join NATO: an “improvement in the European defence policy,” and second, “that a place be made within the NATO’s highest echelons for French representatives.” Without this, “there won’t be a French reintegration”, Sarkozy wrote in an editorial comment published in The New York Times Sept. 21. Sarkozy’s predecessor in office Jacques Chirac had demanded similar conditions in 1995 for full integration into NATO, without success.

But, as Jean Dominique Merchet, defence correspondent of the French daily Libération, put it, “France is already NATO compatible.” For the last ten years France has been participating in several NATO operations from Kosovo to Afghanistan, he said. Besides, Merchet said, “France has adopted the same military processes as all other NATO members.” However conditional Sarkozy’s offer, it was the latest in a series of statements from him or leading members of his cabinet suggesting an eagerness to mend diplomatic ties with Washington. Those took a dip in early 2003 when France refused to go along with the Iraq invasion.

Over the summer, when Sarkozy spent several days in the US, he met Bush at his family home in Kennebunkport for an informal discussion. Photographs of that meeting were widely circulated, indicating Sarkozy’s keenness to spread the word. Sarkozy declared that France and the US have been “allies and friends for more than 250 years.” He was referring to French support for the US revolution against colonial power Britain in 1776.

Later, on Aug. 27, Sarkozy told French ambassadors gathered in Paris that a nuclear-armed Iran was “unacceptable” to France. In this, Sarkozy joined US ranks, and also broke with the position taken by his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who had suggested as late as last year that Iran’s move to nuclear weapons seemed “inevitable.” Sarkozy said a joint diplomatic effort to deal with Tehran regime was the only option to “the Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran.”

Sarkozy told the ambassadors that “I am one of those who think that the friendship between the US and France is as important today as it has been over the last two centuries.” He added that “allies do not mean aligned, and I feel perfectly free to express our agreements (with the US government) as well as our disagreements, without complacency or taboos.” So far, he has not expressed disagreements.

The opposition to Sarkozy’s pro-American stance has been severe. Laurent Fabius, leader of the Socialist Party, calls Sarkozy “the lapdog of George W Bush.” A French diplomat said that it was strange to see Sarkozy looking to get close to a president “unpopular beyond recovery,

besieged by a hostile Congress, and with a mandate that will finish in a little more than a year.” — IPS