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Obama, Sarkozy Share Views on NATO, Russia, Afghanistan

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 3, 2009 – French President Nicolas Sarkozy today remembered the Americans “who fought and died for us” at Normandy as he called for greater integration between the United States and Europe under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Sarkozy and President Barack Obama held a joint news conference in advance of the NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, today.

Obama stressed that NATO is the most successful alliance in modern history. “The basic premise of NATO was that Europe’s security was the United States’ security, and vice versa,” the president said.

The alliance has been the pillar of American foreign policy since its founding 60 years ago, and it will become even stronger ahead, Obama said. “With France’s reintegration into the highest command structures of NATO, that principle will continue to be upheld,” he said.

The alliance needs strong allies, both Obama and Sarkozy said. The French and American presidents said they want Europe to have much more robust defense capabilities.

The United States is “not looking to be the patron of Europe, we're looking to be partners with Europe,” Obama said.

France and the United States have a shared vision of the world, Sarkozy said. “We don’t want to impose our values on anybody,” he said. “But we don't want anybody, anywhere in the world, to prevent us from believing in our principles.”

At the summit, the alliance members will deal with future relations with Russia. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met during the G-20 economics conference in London. The president said there is potential to improve U.S.-Russian relations.

“I think that it is important for NATO allies to engage Russia and to recognize that they have legitimate interests,” he said. “In some cases we've got common interests. But we also have some core disagreements.”

NATO and Russia should be in a dialogue. “We have to send a very clear message to Russia that we want to work with them, but that we can't go back to the old ways of doing business,” he added.

One area of agreement could be Iran, Obama said. “All have an interest in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and that there should be a mechanism that respects Iran’s sovereignty and allows them to develop peaceful nuclear energy, but draws a clear line that we cannot have a nuclear arms race in the Middle East,” he said.

Sarkozy said there is no exclusive Russian area of influence any more. “With the problems the world faces today, we're not going to reinvent the Cold War,” he said. “We need the world getting together; we need the world to unite. We need Russia to shoulder its responsibilities, because it is a great country, a great power, to help us find a solution to the Iranian crisis.”

France and the United States are on the same page in dealing with Russia, Sarkozy said.

Obama praised France for its stance on Afghanistan. He called France a stalwart ally and addressed the possibilities of all the NATO allies re-engaging in a more effective mission in Afghanistan.

“I've not had to drag France kicking and screaming into … Afghanistan, because France recognizes that having al-Qaida operate safe havens that can be used to launch attacks is a threat not just to the United States, but to Europe,” the American president said. “In fact, it is probably more likely that al-Qaida would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack in Europe than in the United States, because of proximity.”

The French president endorsed the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. “I want to say to my fellow Frenchmen that when New York was crucified, this could have happened in any other capital city of any democratic state,” Sarkozy said. “It wasn’t New York that was being targeted, it was democracies at large.”

France has a major presence in Afghanistan, with almost 1,100 soldiers. “We are prepared to do more in terms of police, of the gendarmes, the military police, in terms of economic aid, in order to train Afghans and ‘Afghanize’ Afghanistan,” Sarkozy said.

“We are not waging a war against Afghanistan. We are helping Afghanistan rebuild,” he said. “We don't support any given candidate. We support the right of young Afghans to look to a future, to have a future.”

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Special Report: 60 Years of NATO

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