Mitterrand rules out Nato return

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Francois Mitterrand, setting out what the media describe as his 'political testament' as his term nears its end, yesterday ruled out France's return to Nato's integrated command. The Socialist President also settled some minor scores with his conservative ministers.

In the second and last part of an interview with the conservative daily Le Figaro, Mr Mitterrand said Edouard Balladur, the Gaullist Prime Minister, and Francois Leotard, the Defence Minister, had been reticent about his request to send French troops to Rwanda this summer. On the other hand, Alain Juppe, the Gaullist Foreign Minister, had supported the decision. Mr Mitterrand's words have taken on a special importance because of reports that, after a second operation for cancer of the prostate in July, his health is fragile. This has prompted speculation that he could stand down before the end of his second seven-year mandate next May, bringing forward the election for the presidency.

Yesterday, Liberation and Le Monde, two of the main national dailies, carried pessimistic analyses of his health, based on doctors' observations. In the first part of his Le Figaro interview on Thursday, the President said he believed his illness would be 'obliging enough' to allow him to complete his mandate but 'perhaps I am mistaken'.

His interview yesterday dealt with foreign policy. Over the past two weeks, Mr Mitterrand has been testy with Mr Balladur who not only gave a lengthy interview on foreign policy to Le Figaro last week but also summoned all France's ambassadors to Paris. Mr Mitterrand, addressing the envoys, reminded them that foreign policy remained the prerogative of the President.

In his 18 months as Prime Minister, Mr Balladur - who is believed to have his own presidential ambitions - had hitherto been careful not to tread on Mr Mitterrand's toes and had generally refrained from commenting on foreign policy and defence.

The President said Mr Balladur and Mr Leotard had been reluctant to go into Rwanda. Mr Juppe who, he said, had 'a quick and precise mind', had been in favour. As for Mr Leotard's presence at a Nato defence ministers' meeting in Seville at the end of this month - the first time since Charles de Gaulle took France out of the Nato integrated command structure in 1966 that Paris has been represented at this level - Mr Mitterrand said this was an exception and he was 'totally hostile' to rejoining the military structure.

Mr Leotard said in January that French defence ministers would attend Nato meetings where the agenda touched on French troops; the Seville meeting will discuss Bosnia where France has the biggest UN contingent.

Le Monde said an appreciation of Mr Mitterrand's health was difficult since his twice-yearly medical bulletins, published to reassure the public, 'sinned by omission or laconicism'. A Paris urologist in quoted anonymously by Liberation, said he had compared Mr Mitterrand's 'clinical configuration' with similar cases among his patients - whose life expectancy was between two months and two years.