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France Will Receive Top NATO Posts, Foreign Minister Says

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
PARIS (Reuters) -- France will win top NATO posts and boost Europe's position within the military alliance when it returns to the organization's command structure, France's foreign minister has said ahead of a parliamentary vote on the move.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy may announce as soon as this week that France is ready to rejoin NATO's integrated command, which plans, trains, and conducts joint operations.

He faces resistance from opposition parties as well as from members of his own UMP party over the move, with critics arguing France will lose its ability to act as a counterweight to the United States and to forge independent diplomatic alliances.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told "Le Figaro" newspaper on March 9 the time was right to return to the fold, more than four decades after the then-French President Charles de Gaulle quit NATO's inner sanctum at the height of the Cold War.

"The context has changed today. The Warsaw Pact and communist threat don't exist anymore," Kouchner said.

"We will gain some significant command posts, and, above all, take part in the drawing up of plans which we are supposed to follow," he added.

A diplomat told Reuters earlier this year the United States had agreed to let France head NATO's Allied Command Transformation project in Virginia and the regional command headquarters in Lisbon if it returns to the heart of NATO.

France is already the fourth-largest contributor of troops to NATO and Sarkozy is seeking to persuade skeptical countrymen that it is in Paris's interests to reverse de Gaulle's decision.

"We took part in all the NATO operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, without taking part in drawing up the plans. France cannot carry on being the only filmmaker who is not invited to the script development," Kouchner said.

He added that France's reintegration would give Europe greater influence over NATO.

"We are in favor of making NATO more European. The Europeans will find it easier to lead foreign operations without the backing or involvement of the Americans," he said.

Sarkozy will host a summit of NATO leaders next month that is expected to formalize France's full return to the alliance.

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