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Obama, Hollande Agree on Debt Crisis Approach

Obama, Hollande Agree on Debt Crisis Approach

By Alexis Simendinger - May 18, 2012

President Obama and French President Franҫois Hollande agreed Friday that Europe's ongoing debt crisis should be tackled with a combination of growth measures and fiscal austerity, a view the United States hopes to press on other members of the Group of Eight industrialized nations during meetings at Camp David Saturday. The two leaders met at the White House ahead of the G-8 summit.

“President Hollande and I agree that this is an issue of extraordinary importance not only to the people of Europe, but also to the world economy,” Obama said of the urgency in Europe to resolve a contagious debt crisis that could boomerang back to the United States.

“We're looking forward to a fruitful discussion,” he continued, “about how we can manage a responsible approach to fiscal consolidation that is coupled with a strong growth agenda.”

France’s new Socialist leader -- meeting with Obama for the first time before the two men departed for Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains to dine with their G-8 counterparts -- said Greece should remain in the Eurozone despite its mounting financial strains. He said he sought to communicate that message to the Greek people in advance of elections there this summer.

“Our economies depend on one another,” the French president said. “What happens in Europe has an impact on the U.S., and vice versa. So we are related, and the more coherent we are, the more efficient we can be.”

A French-speaking journalist, offering an alternate translation, told RCP that Hollande said what “happened” in the United States had impacted Europe, suggesting that his emphasis was on the financial tumult that began with the 2008 banking crisis in America, which spread across the Atlantic.

Hollande, speaking French although he conversed briefly with Obama in English, was resolute that his nation’s approximately 3,600 combat forces will exit Afghanistan by the end of the year. That is an exodus the Obama administration had hoped to soft-pedal. But French parliamentary elections take place in June, and Hollande, who was elected May 6, is determined to follow through on his pledge to withdraw French troops this year, two years ahead of what his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, had envisioned.

“I reminded President Obama that I made a promise to the French people to the effect that our combat troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2012,” he said through an interpreter. “That being said, we will continue to support Afghanistan in a different way. Our support will take a different format, and all of that will be in good understanding with our allies.”

That “different way” could mean that French advisers or counterterrorism trainers will remain to help the Afghans as combat forces pull out.

But the important nuances in Hollande’s remarks were his firm resolve to exit, and his nod to the Afghanistan war as essentially America’s project -- using the phrase “their mission.”

“We will discuss that further in Chicago,” he said, “and I'm pretty sure I will find the right means so that our allies can continue with their mission, and at the same time I can comply to the promise I made to the French people.”

Most international forces are slated to leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Currently, there are about 130,000 international troops there, of which 90,000 come from the United States. Obama plans to withdraw 23,000 of those forces by September, before the U.S. elections, and Australia announced this spring that it planned to withdraw most of its 1,500 forces before elections in 2013. Germany has about 4,500 troops in Afghanistan, and has said it wants them out as soon as possible.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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