A symbolic ceremony was under way Saturday to mark France’s return as a full NATO member and to remember those who have died in NATO-led missions during the alliance’s 60-year history.
NATO leaders were gathering on a footbridge over the Rhine river separating France and Germany, which are both hosting a two-day NATO summit that concludes Saturday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will walk from one side and French President Nicolas Sarkozy planned to walk from the other to meet in the middle and greet each other. The handshake will be a symbol for France rejoining NATO’s military command more than four decades after it left. A solemn ceremony will follow to honor the men and women in uniform who have died in NATO missions and operations over the years. Then, it’s down to business, with some of the most important discussions of the summit so far. The meeting in Strasbourg, France, will be devoted primarily to NATO’s ongoing operational commitments — and in particular to its engagement in Afghanistan.
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U.S. President Barack Obama has appealed to America’s European allies several times this week to contribute more to the fight. “The United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan,” Obama told an audience Friday in Germany. “We were attacked by an al Qaeda network that killed thousands on American soil, including French and Germans. “Along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, those terrorists are still plotting today. And if there is another al Qaeda attack, it is just as likely, if not more, that it will be here in Europe, in a European city.” Obama has asked NATO members for more civilian and military assistance. Despite some contributions of police trainers from France and Spain and aircraft from Belgium, NATO members have so far largely been reluctant to contribute more. NATO leaders meeting Saturday will adopt a number of key documents, including a final communique and a statement on the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan, NATO said. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization celebrates its 60th birthday Saturday.