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France to rejoin NATO

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PARIS (JTA) — The French National Assembly voted to rejoin the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after more than four decades of protest.

By a vote of 329 to 228, with 10 abstentions, National Assembly representatives approved President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan announced last week to reverse the controversial 1966 decision by then-President Charles de Gaulle to quit NATO’s military command.

Tuesday’s vote was no surprise, since Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party holds the majority of National Assembly seats. The opposing Socialist Party and a handful of conservative nationalists tried to block the measure.

De Gaulle pulled out of NATO in objection to what he described as U.S. dominance over the group. The move helped establish decades of foreign policy wary of being upstaged by the United States.

Conditions now, however, are ripe for a historic NATO rapprochement because of President Obama’s popularity in France and Sarkozy’s non-conformist pro-U.S. views.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon defended the shift and claimed the new alliance was a simple “adjustment” to years of collaboration with NATO members, despite refusing to join their club.

Fillon insisted that the French would maintain their autonomy from the United States and would judge on their own whether to enter combat alongside their allies in the future.

France would be an “ally but not a vassal,” he said. “Loyal but not submissive.”

Sarkozy is expected to officially announce France’s return to the organization during the NATO summit on April 3-4 in Strasbourg, France, and in Kehl, Germany.

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