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11th Apr 2021

France signals full return to NATO

France will take a decision by the end of this year on returning to NATO's military structures, French president Nicolas Sarkozy said at a NATO summit in Bucharest on Thursday (3 April).

"At the end of the French presidency [of the EU] the moment will have come to conclude this process and to take the necessary decisions for France to take its full place in NATO structures," Mr Sarkozy was reported as saying by The Guardian.

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France left NATO's military command in 1966, when the then president Charles de Gaulle withdrew the French forces protesting against what he saw as ever growing US dominance within the organisation.

But on Thursday, Mr Sarkozy said that the door was now open for France to have a "strong renewal of its relations with NATO."

The French president also confirmed his country would send 700 soldiers to Afghanistan to strengthen NATO troops on the ground.

France could reintegrate into NATO's military command during the summit meeting of the organisation next year. The meeting will mark the 60th anniversary of the Alliance and is to be jointly hosted by Strasbourg in France and Kehl in Germany.

Macedonia disappointed by NATO rejection

Meanwhile, the Macedonian delegation decided to leave the NATO meeting a day earlier after Greece blocked a membership offer to the small ex-Yugoslav country, due to a 17-year-old dispute over its name.

Greece had the support of some other NATO states, notably France.

"We all hope that a solution can be found for FYROM, but we are at the sides of our Greek allies. When one wants to join NATO, a minimum of efforts have to be done," French president Sarkozy said in his speech.

The US, on the other hand, has backed Macedonia and the two countries will within the next two weeks sign a special bilateral agreement, under which Washington will guarantee Macedonia's safety, according to Macedonian news agency Makfax.

Athens refuses to recognise the constitutional name of its neighbour – Republic of Macedonia - as its northern province is also called Macedonia. UN-sponsored talks on the matter are still ongoing between the two states.

"This is a great disappointment that will impede the stability in the Balkans," said Nikola Dimitrov, Macedonia's negotiator in the name dispute talks with Greece.

"We are punished not because we didn't do our job, but because of who we are," he told the Associated Press.

For his part, the country's president Branko Crvenkovski said: "The sole obstacle which prevented Macedonia from obtaining a NATO membership invitation is the frustrations of our southern neighbour Greece, which has raised its irrational position to such a level to abuse the right of veto as Alliance's member," Macedonian news agency MIA reported.

An opening for Serbia

Two other Balkan countries, Croatia and Albania received invitations to join the military alliance as planned, while Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia have received invitations "to raise the level of their cooperation with NATO from Partnership for Peace to intensified dialogue," the host of the summit, Romanian president Traian Basescu announced on Thursday.

"Unlike its neighbours, Serbia made no request for this, but there was insistence inside the alliance to guarantee Serbia ties, once it decides to put an end to its isolation from NATO," he told the press.

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