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France welcomed back to Nato

Nato members applaud Sarkozy’s decision to bring France back to Nato’s integrated command structure it quit in 1966.

Nicolas Sarkozy announced on Tuesday that France will rejoin Nato’s integrated military command – which de Gaulle pulled out of in 1966.

The announcement, which was part of a wide reappraisal of the role and function of the French military, was widely welcomed by Nato partners, especially in Washington.

France was a founding member of Nato but left the integrated command in 1966 when Charles de Gaulle rejected US dominance of the military alliance.

The move is seen as part of Sarkozy’s realignment with the United States after a breakdown in relations in 2003 over the US-led invasion of Iraq.

White House security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: “We welcome the announcement. “The United States wants a strong partner in Europe, wants a strong EU partner, and that involves both more military capability for those countries, but also partnering Nato's military capability with EU civilian and political capabilities."

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey added: “Sarkozy's announcement reflects the important role that France is playing within the alliance and also the increasing cooperative efforts at integration between NATO and the European Union as it also seeks to develop its own security capabilities."

The announcement was made during a major speech on defence in which Sarkozy also said the armed forces would lose 54,000 posts to make way for a "massive investment" to develop state-of-the-art intelligence to counter terrorism.

He said: "The most immediate threat today is that of a terrorist attack.

"The threat is there, it is real and we know that it can tomorrow take on a new form, even more serious, with nuclear, chemical and biological means.”

Sarkozy stressed that France would remain "an independent ally" and keep its nuclear deterrent forces under strict national control.

He added: "We can renew our relations with Nato without fear for our independence and without running the risk of being unwillingly dragged into a war."

Opposition politicians on the left criticized the move, saying it confirmed a shift toward a pro-US stance under Sarkozy and a loss of the independence that has been a hallmark of French foreign policy for decades.

From 2009 - 2020, France will spend €377 billion on defence, including €200 billion on new equipment. As of 2012, the military budget will increase.

There will be a "massive investment effort in intelligence" to make use of satellites, drones and other airborne surveillance equipment.

The investments will be offset by cuts in the armed forces, with the army, navy and air forces to be downsized from their current level of some 270,000 troops.

Sarkozy pledged to pursue his drive to build a European defence force saying the French EU presidency starting next month would be the "first step in re-launching European defence for the coming years."

Sarkozy also said it was not France's "calling to keep armed forces in Africa for ever," and there would be a "reconfiguration" of resources.

France has about 9,000 soldiers deployed on the continent. Some of France's four permanent bases in Africa will be shut down.

Some 50 military bases across France are also to be closed.

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