France set for plan to resume NATO military role Chirac agrees to end 30-year estrangement if conditions are met

June 09, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PARIS -- President Jacques Chirac said yesterday that France would rejoin all the military structures of NATO from which it pulled out in 1966 if the alliance's decision last week to give European countries a stronger leadership role was fully carried out.

French officials said that it would take about a year for NATO to draw up detailed contingency plans for the new command procedures on which its foreign ministers agreed Monday in Berlin and that Chirac could then make the decision to end France's 30-year estrangement.

The foreign ministers of NATO countries approved plans to give a European defense organization, the Western European Union, the ability to use NATO command structures, heavy transport aircraft and other assets in European-led military operations in regional crises even when the United States preferred not to become involved.

U.S. officials have welcomed the French moves closer to the alliance, even while insisting that they find it hard to imagine any NATO military operation the United States would not want to join.

Abandoning the go-it-alone policy adopted by Charles de Gaulle 30 years ago, Chirac has committed France to developing European defense strategy within the American-led alliance rather than outside.

France announced in December that it would take part in meetings of NATO defense ministers and military chiefs of staff in which it had not participated since 1966, on condition that the alliance transform itself to reflect changes since the Cold War ended, including a diminished U.S. military presence in Europe.

Rejoining the alliance's integrated military structures would put French officers permanently back into its subordinate military commands and into the Military Committee, NATO's highest military authority, now consisting of the chiefs of staffs of the 15 member countries besides France.

France also does not now take part in NATO's nuclear planning group or its defense planning committee.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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