Sarkozy's Opposition Critical of Troop Increase

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday said his country will send hundreds of additional troops to Afghanistan's eastern region, which is more volatile. Sarkozy's decision is welcomed by NATO members, especially the United States, but unpopular at home.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As we just heard, France has agreed to send more troops to Afghanistan -hundreds, says President Nicolas Sarkozy. And they'll go to the more volatile region in the east of the country. Sarkozy's decision is welcome news to his NATO allies, but bad news to many in France. Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Today's announcement wasn't exactly a surprise. A French troop increase in Afghanistan has been in the cards for months, and Sarkozy confirmed it during his state visit to Britain last week.

President NICHOLAS SARKOZY (France): (Through Translator) We cannot accept a return of the Taliban and al-Qaida in Kabul. Defeat is out of the question.

BEARDSLEY: Most of the 1,600 French troops already in Afghanistan operate in the relatively safe area around the Afghan capital of Kabul. Tomas Valasek, the director of foreign policy at the London-based Center for European Reform, says the additional French soldiers may not change much on the ground, but they're a shot in the arm for NATO.

Mr. TOMAS VALASEK (Director of Foreign Policy, Center for European Reform): NATO will certainly be delighted to hear that the French are reinforcing their troops because the whole idea of one for all and all for one seemed to be put to a test in Afghanistan when some countries like Holland and Canada, who are losing people and in the south, are not being helped and reinforced by others from other parts of Afghanistan. That has put a real strain on the alliance, and mostly on the alliance solidarity.

BEARDSLEY: Sarkozy's decision has angered the opposition back home, where the troop increase wasn't put to a vote in Parliament. While the French Constitution gives the President the right to make such decisions, the fact that Sarkozy first unveiled his plan to the British Parliament has added insult to injury. And opposition socialists accuse Sarkozy of being Bush's latest lap dog. Analyst Jean-Bernard Cadier with News Channel France 24 says Sarkozy has to walk a fine line in Afghanistan.

Mr. JEAN-BERNARD CADIER (Analyst for News Channel France 24): (Through Translator) Rapprochement with America is always a delicate question in France. A poll out this week shows 68 percent of French people are hostile to a troop reinforcement. That's like the 70 percent who are opposed to the war in Iraq. Obviously, the French government doesn't want a movement against the war in Afghanistan like the one against Iraq.

BEARDSLEY: By answering NATO's call for more troops, analysts say Sarkozy is also preparing the ground for French reintegration into NATO, 42 years after Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from the alliance's command structure. And Sarkozy, like his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, wants a stronger EU Defense force. But unlike Chirac, says foreign policy analyst Tomas Valasek, Sarkozy does not believe that European defense and NATO are at odds.

Mr. VALASEK: President Sarkozy is essentially saying I don't see the world in the same way that President Chirac did. I do think that NATO and the EU are fully compatible. I want France to be full member of both organizations. I am not going to play political games with NATO. I am going to make France do what a big power should be doing in NATO.

BEARDSLEY: As a condition for sending more French troops, Sarkozy has called for a clarification of NATO's mission in Afghanistan with a better development strategy to accompany military action. And to temper his pro-American image at home, the French president has come out against President Bush on NATO enlargement.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

MONTAGNE: And you can read more about what's important to the U.S. at this NATO summit at npr.org.

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Mission, Membership Key Issues for Bush at NATO

President George Bush (right) and Romanian President Traian Basescu i i

President George Bush (right) and Romanian President Traian Basescu take part in a welcoming ceremony at Mihail Kogalniceanu Airport in Constanta, Romania, on Wednesday. hide caption

itoggle caption
President George Bush (right) and Romanian President Traian Basescu

President George Bush (right) and Romanian President Traian Basescu take part in a welcoming ceremony at Mihail Kogalniceanu Airport in Constanta, Romania, on Wednesday.

Current NATO Members

Belgium

Bulgaria

Canada

Czech Republic

Denmark

Estonia

France

Germany

Greece

Hungary

Iceland

Italy

Latvia

Lithuania

Luxembourg

Netherlands

Norway

Poland

Portugal

Romania

Slovakia

Slovenia

Spain

Turkey

United Kingdom

United States

The current meeting of NATO leaders in Bucharest, Romania, offers President George Bush his last major chance to argue for one of his key foreign-policy objectives — continued expansion of the alliance's mission and its membership.

Bush wanted a bigger commitment of troops and resources to NATO's operation in Afghanistan, and he wanted to bring more former Soviet-bloc nations into the organization — a move that Russian President Vladimir Putin has strongly opposed.

Here are some of the items on the summit agenda that are most important to the United States:

Afghanistan: The United States, Canada, Britain and the Netherlands have called on their NATO partners to commit more fighting troops, especially to Afghanistan's southern provinces. That's where a resurgent Taliban has been more aggressive in the past year than at any time since the Islamic fundamentalist government was overthrown in 2001.

In comments leading up to the summit, Bush referred to expectations that France would add another 1,000 soldiers to the 1,500 it already has deployed to Afghanistan. Sarkozy said on Thursday that the number would be closer to 700, and it's still not clear how many troops other nations may offer. The United States currently has the largest number of foreign troops in Afghanistan — about 26,000.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are attending the summit to push for better coordination of military operations and development efforts in the country.

New NATO Members: The president failed to convince other NATO members that the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia should officially be put on track to join the alliance. But leaders at the summit did issue a statement welcoming the aspirations of the two former Soviet republics to join NATO and promising that they will eventually be members.

France and Germany were among the allies who voiced doubts about whether Georgia and Ukraine were ready to begin the membership process. Russia opposes NATO membership for the two countries, fearing the expansion of a potentially hostile military alliance along its borders. The NATO alliance was formed after World War II in large part to contain the former Soviet Union. Russia is not a member, but Russian President Vladimir Putin is attending the summit as an observer.

As expected, NATO did invite Croatia and Albania to join the 26 current members. Macedonia was also in line to join, but alliance members told the former Yugoslav Republic it must first resolve a dispute with Greece over its name.

Missile Defense: Alliance members issued a communique saying they accept a controversial Bush administration plan to locate parts of an anti-missile defense system in central Europe. The plan calls for interceptor missiles to be deployed in Poland, with radar detector installations in the Czech Republic.

President Bush says the system is designed to protect against missile attacks from countries such as Iran. Russia's President Putin opposes the plan, saying it would upset the strategic balance in the region by putting Russia at a military disadvantage.

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