NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told French lawmakers that Paris had nothing to lose and everything to gain by returning to the military wing of the NATO alliance.  

Experts believe French President Nicolas Sarkozy will announce France will resume membership in NATO's military wing during an alliance summit in early April.  France withdrew from the wing  in 1966.  The president at the time, Charles de Gaulle, wanted to assert France's military independence.

But in remarks to members of France's National Assembly, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said it would be a win-win situation if Paris rejoined the alliance's military wing today.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said NATO needs France, and that France has everything to gain by fully rejoining NATO.  France already actively participates in many NATO operations.  But experts believe it can gain more by being part of the military decision-making structure.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer also told the lawmakers the French military would hold important posts if Paris rejoined, although he did not say what they would be.  But there are reports the United States has agreed France can have two key commands.

But many French are skeptical about rejoining, and a number of politicians, including some from President Sarkozy's ruling Union for a Popular Majority party are against it.  Some believe France would lose some of its sovereignty by being part of a larger military structure, an argument de Hoop Scheffer rejected.

If France does join the military branch, it is uncertain it would participate more in one key NATO operation: Afghanistan.  The head of the U.S. Central Command, David Petraeus, failed to win French promises to send more troops to Afghanistan during meetings with officials in Paris this week.  A French officer was killed Wednesday in Afghanistan.