Concerned France's new president-elect will remove French troops from Afghanistan this year, senior Obama administration officials are headed to Paris for high-level talks.
A senior U.S. delegation is slated to depart Washington for the French capital Thursday afternoon, said Phillip Gordon, assistant secretary of state.
U.S. officials have had some talks with Francois Hollande and his team. But the president-elect has yet to back off a campaign promise to pull all French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year.
President Obama plansto have most American forces out ofthe country by December 2014. Washington's NATO allies are expected to follow America's lead, though some, like France, are openly floating the idea of leaving sooner.
It is unclear whether the American officials will meet with Hollande, the socialist candidate who captured the presidency last weekend by defeating President Nicolas Sarkozy.
James Townsend, a senior Pentagon official, told a Senate panel the U.S. delegation would meet with "the Hollande team" in the City of Light.
The goal is to persuade Hollande to soften or reverse the campaign-trail vow ahead of the NATO Summit in Chicago where the administration hopes member nations will agree to a long-term plan for helping Afghanistan.
With the summit, slated for May 19-21, in Obama's hometown of Chicago, a French announcement there of an end to its Afghan role would be a major embarrassment for the president. What is more, if French troops leave, it will undermine Obama's Afghan war strategy, which is largely based on allied troops training indigenous military and police forces.
"They are stepping into an already flowing stream," Townsend said. He was referring to work already done by U.S. and NATO officials on a plan for assisting Afghanistan militarily, economically and politically long after Western forces mostly depart in 2014.
U.S. officials intend to remind their soon-to-be French counterparts that "they will be taking on a big responsibility," Townsend said.
Another message they will deliver is based on a lesson the Obama administration learned upon inheriting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars when Obamatook office in January 2009.
"They face a situation many politicians face after an election," Townsend said. "They have to govern," meaning running a government--and ending a war--is more complicated than talking about doing so.
John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.