- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2012

French President Francois Hollande stood by his campaign commitment to pull his country’s troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year in his first meeting with President Obama Friday, but pledged to provide assistance to Afghan security in a “different way.”

The newly sworn-in French leader, who campaigned on a pledge to bring the nearly 3,500 French troops in Afghanistan home, made the statements after a meeting with Mr. Obama at the White House ahead of the G-8 summit, which is set to begin Friday evening at the presidential retreat in Camp David in Maryland.

Mr. Hollande did not elaborate about his plans to contribute to security efforts in Afghanistan or say whether he will help pay for the continued training of Afghan forces, promising to discus the matter with other leaders at the NATO summit in Chicago to be held Sunday and Monday.

“I reminded President Obama that I made a promise to the French people to the effect that our combat troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2012,” he said through an interpreter. “That being said, we will continue to support Afghanistan in a different way, our support will take a different format, and all of that will be done in good understanding with our allies within the [International Security Assistance Force.]”

One of the top items for the NATO summit is flushing out details of the strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, aimed at ending most combat operations in that country by the end of 2014 and turning security over to Afghan forces. Mr. Obama also is trying to convince reluctant international partners to contribute $1.3 billion of the estimated $4 billion annual cost of providing support to Afghanistan beyond 2014.

At Camp David Friday night, G-8 leaders will gather for a working dinner focused on Iran’s nuclear development and the bloody crackdown on regime opponents in Syria.

Mr. Hollande, a Socialist, ousted Nicolas Sarkozy — who had worked closely with the United States on the Afghan conflict — in elections completed earlier this month. After the meeting at the White House, the new French president said he and Mr. Obama “shared views” about Iran and would “start negotiations … with the required firmness that Iran doesn’t get the nuclear military capability.”

With regards to the deepening economic crisis in Greece, Mr. Hollande said he also shares Mr. Obama’s view that Greece should stay in the euro zone and “that all of us must do what we can to that effect.”

“There will be elections in Greece and we wanted to send a message to that effect to the Greek people,” he said.



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