Hollande stands by pledge to pull troops from Afghanistan
(CBS News) Newly-inaugurated French President Francois Hollande stood by his campaign promise to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012 at the White House Friday, though he vowed to "continue to support Afghanistan in a different way."
Hollande, who was elected less than two weeks ago, made the comments during a brief appearance with President Obama in the Oval Office ahead of the Group of Eight (G-8) and NATO summits. Under his predecessor, Nikolas Sarkozy, France had initially planned to keep troops from Afghanistan through 2014.
Hollande vowed during his campaign to remove all 3,300 French troops from Afghanistan, but he later softened that to say that all "combat units" would be out by the end of the year. On Friday in the Oval Office, he vowed to find the "right means" by which to France can "continue and comply" with its in-country commitments.
On Thursday, President Obama's national security adviser Tom Donilon said this "different" French commitment in Afghanistan will be a topic of discussion at the NATO summit, to be held in Chicago on Sunday and Monday. He did not rule out the possibility that France would adopt something like the training-focused role for troops the U.S. plans to adopt after its combat troops leave the country 2014.
In conjunction with his first meeting with Hollande Friday, Mr. Obama said the two agreed that "even as we transition out of a combat phase in Afghanistan... it's important that we sustain our commitment to helping Afghans build security and continue down the path to development."
He also said resolution of the Eurozone crisis is of "extraordinary importance," adding that a "strong growth agenda" will be the focus at this weekend's G-8 Summit at Camp David. His French counterpart agreed, pushing for both growth and a resolution that keeps Greece in the Eurozone. Mr. Obama is expected to push German Chancellor Angela Merkel to move away from austerity measures and toward stimulus spending during the summit, a position shared by Hollande.
At the end of the appearance, Mr. Obama joked about Hollande's foray studying fast food on a business grant in the United States years ago, and said he looked forward to "his views on cheeseburgers in Chicago."
"Cheeseburgers go very well with French Fries," he added with a smile.
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