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France's Hollande sticking to early Afghan pullout

WASHINGTON — Francois Hollande, the new president of France, met Friday with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the administration's first official face-to-face interaction with the new leader, who wants a more stimulative economic policy and a lesser role in Afghanistan than did his predecessor.

Hollande, a Socialist who rode to power on a wave of economic discontent, is one of the leaders of the Group of 8 industrial nations, who are meeting near Washington this weekend in advance of next week's NATO meeting in Chicago.

After the session at the White House, where the leaders said they discussed Europe's economy, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, Clinton hosted Hollande at a working lunch at Blair House, a guest house across the street. Later, she met with her new French counterpart, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

The Obama administration generally had warm relations with Hollande's predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, cooperating on Libya, Syria and Iran, and coordinating over Europe's response to the global economic downturn. But there is no reason to expect tensions with the Hollande government; on the economic front, the White House is not unfriendly to economic stimulus, and the differences over how quickly to withdraw from Afghanistan are not profound.

In brief remarks to reporters after the meeting, Hollande said that he was committed to providing assistance to Afghan security, and that that would be discussed at the NATO summit. Hollande said during his election campaign that he preferred French forces to leave Afghanistan before the timetable agreed to by NATO.

He said the leaders of the two nations had "shared views" about Iran and would "start a conversation."

The full G-8 session, which is being held at Camp David in Maryland, was to get under way Friday evening with a private dinner. Among the other issues the G-8 leaders will discuss is assistance for developing countries.

Earlier Friday, Obama called for a renewed effort to combat hunger and malnutrition in Africa, despite tough economic times around the world, announcing $3 billion in private pledges to increase agriculture and food production.

The Group of 8 leaders

Barack Obama

President, United States

In office since: Jan. 20, 2009

Francois Hollande

President, France

In office since: May 15, 2012

Angela Merkel

Chancellor, Germany

In office since: Nov. 22, 2005

Mario Monti

Prime minister, Italy

In office since: Nov. 16, 2011

Yoshihiko Noda

Prime minister, Japan

In office since: Sept. 2, 2011

Dmitri Medvedev

Prime minister, Russia

In office since: May 8, 2012

David Cameron

Prime minister, Britain

In office since: May 11, 2010

Stephen Harper

Prime minister, Canada

In office since: Feb. 6, 2006

France's Hollande sticking to early Afghan pullout 05/18/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 18, 2012 11:13pm]
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