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Hollande Meets Obama, Reaffirms Early Afghanistan Withdrawal


French President Francois Hollande (left( and President Barack Obama hold discussions at the White House, May 18, 2012

French President Francois Hollande (left( and President Barack Obama hold discussions at the White House, May 18, 2012

French President Francois Hollande and President Barack Obama have discussed Afghanistan, the eurozone crisis, Syria and other international issues in a meeting at the White House.

President Hollande's White House talks, his attendance at the G8 summit in Camp David, Maryland, and the NATO summit in Chicago, are part of his international debut after his election victory.

As a candidate he pledged to withdraw France's 3,400 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year.

That is far ahead of NATO's plan to pull all troops out of Afghanistan in 2014 as Afghan government forces assume full responsibility for security.

In translated remarks, President Hollande said he reminded Obama of that pledge to the French people, and said France's support for Afghanistan going forward will take a different form.

"We will continue to support Afghanistan in a different way, our support will take a different form and all of that will be done in a good understanding with our allies within ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and so we will continue and comply with our commitment to that country, and [provide] supplies and support as I said in a different way," Hollande said.

In his remarks, President Obama said he and Mr. Hollande agreed that as NATO transitions out of a combat phrase, it is important to sustain the commitment to Afghanistan's security and development.

Obama said much of their discussion focused on the situation in eurozone saying it is of extraordinary importance to the people of Europe and to the world economy.

"We are looking forward to a fruitful discussion later this evening and tomorrow with the other G8 leaders about how we can manage a responsible approach to fiscal consolidation that is coupled with a strong growth agenda," Obama said.

President Hollande, who is a Socialist, campaigned on a pro-growth position and called for reconsideration of austerity measures European countries have taken, including a controversial European Union treaty strongly supported by Germany.
Hollande sidestepped the controversy about his anti-austerity views.

"I discussed the main topics with President Obama including the economy and the fact that growth must be a priority at the same time as we put in place some fiscal compacts to improve our finances. And, on growth President Obama was able to acknowledge shared views so that we can progress," Hollande said.

Hollande said he and President Obama shared the view that Greece should remain in the eurozone.

On Iran, Hollande saying the U.S. and France agree on the importance of negotiations underway with Tehran, and the need to be firm on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.

On the Iran issue, as well as Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring, Obama said France has shown "great leadership"

"As I indicated to President Hollande, when the United States and France along with our other key allies make up our minds to stand firm on the side of democracy and freedom and development that enormous progress can be made," Obama said.

President Obama said he assured Mr. Hollande that the friendship and alliance with France is of extraordinary importance to him and greatly valued by the American people.

Hollande said France and the U.S. have always managed to overcome differences and said it was important for him to take the opportunity of the G8 and NATO summits to reaffirm the importance of the relationship.
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