WASHINGTON — The United States stressed Thursday that France would still contribute to the NATO operation in Afghanistan, despite new President Francois Hollande’s promise to withdraw combat troops this year.
A day before Obama welcomes Hollande to the Oval Office for their first meeting, the White House stressed that the overall NATO combat mission would not end in Afghanistan until 2014.
“We would look to allies to make their national decisions in the context of the overall alliance approach,” said Obama’s National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
“You can make all kinds of contributions. You can make combat troop contributions, you can make train and assist kinds of contributions, you can make other kinds of contributions.”
Donilon’s remarks appeared to leave latitude for Hollande to meet his campaign commitment while still avoiding leaving an impression that NATO member countries were rushing for the exits from the Afghan war.
“Despite the national decisions you might make about pace of withdrawal or timing of withdrawal … you’re a member of the alliance, and all in together and all out together, as an alliance in a general fashion,” Donilon said.
“I’m sure that (Hollande) intends to keep his campaign commitments, but also France is a member of an alliance, a member of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan) an ally of the US, so I think it’s fully appropriate for us to have a discussion about this.”
Donilon also said that he expected that Obama and Hollande would be able to build the kind of relationship that the US leader enjoyed with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who left office this week.
Hollande will travel to the US leader’s presidential retreat at Camp David later Friday to join Obama and other leaders at the G8 summit which is set to be dominated by the euro zone debt crisis.
He will then travel on to Chicago where Obama will on Sunday convene a NATO summit, at which the Afghan war will be the key issue.