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French General Takes Over Senior NATO Job

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Lisa Bryant

For the first time in NATO history, one of the alliance's supreme commanders is from a country other than the United States. Air Force general Stephane Abrial of France has taken over the job of Supreme Allied Commander Transformation for NATO. 

French general Stephane Abrial takes over as supreme allied commander in Norfolk, Virginia, in the United States, just months after President Nicolas Sarkozy of France announced his country would rejoin the NATO military command more than 40 years after leaving it.

At a NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, earlier this year, Mr. Sarkozy discussed France's return and assured fellow leaders that France was part of the same NATO family. Everyone can count on France, he said - and France knows it can count on its NATO allies.

The Norfolk position is one of two top command posts promised to France when it rejoined the alliance.  Another Frenchman now heads a NATO command in Lisbon. General Abrial takes over the Virginia post from U.S. marine general James Mattis. The French general is the first non-US commander assuming a top NATO command in the alliance's history.

NATO's new head Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called the changeover a significant milestone for NATO. And NATO expert Jean Sylvestre Mongrenier says it reflects a shift to a more balanced distribution of power between Europe and the United States.

Mongrenier told French radio that having a European as top NATO military head indicates a real trans-Atlantic multilateralism - but he said it means Europe must carry its share of responsibility. The US has been pressing European allies to send more troops to Afghanistan. And Mongrenier noted that European defense budgets overall are declining.

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