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Far-right leader Bardella backpedals on taking France out of NATO strategic military command

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VILLEPINTE, France (AP) — The far-right leader angling to become prime minister after France’s upcoming parliamentary election backtracked Wednesday on his party’s previous promise to pull out of NATO’s strategic military command.

National Rally President Jordan Bardella said at the Eurosatory arms show outside Paris in Villepinte that he “doesn’t plan to question the commitments France has made on the international stage” if voters give his party a majority that enables him to lead a new government, in what would be an awkward power-sharing arrangement with President Emmanuel Macron.

Referring to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Bardella said that “France mustn’t leave NATO’s military command while we are at war, because it would considerably weaken France’s responsibility on the European scene and, obviously, its credibility with regard to its allies.”

The comments pulled back from a campaign promise made by his party in its manifesto for the 2022 French presidential election. “The priority will be to leave the integrated NATO command,” the 2022 manifesto read, a move that would have taken French military staff out of the NATO body that plans operations, and weakened France’s role and influence within NATO.

The latest about-face comes as the National Rally is toning down previously announced positions in an attempt to win voters outside of its traditional base before the June 30 and July 7 two-round parliamentary election — the party’s first real chance of forming a government.

In spite of his comments regarding NATO, Bardella maintained that he’s firmly against sending troops to Ukraine.

“I am opposed, unlike the president of the republic, to sending troops and sending French soldiers to Ukraine, because I believe that first of all, a majority of French people is opposed to this decision,” he said. Macron said in March that sending Western troops into Ukraine shouldn’t be ruled out.

Bardella said that he supported sending continued French supplies of weaponry, ammunition and other military equipment and support to Ukraine “to enable Ukraine to protect itself,” but that he was also wary of the risk of any direct escalation with Russia, noting that it is nuclear-armed like France.

“My position has not changed. It is … to hold the front and at the same time to avoid any risk of escalation with Russia, because Russia is a nuclear power,” he said.

Bardella’s euroskeptic anti-immigration National Rally party, and particularly its former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, are known for close ties to Russia. Le Pen has expressed reservations about supplying Ukraine with additional arms.

Earlier this month, Macron dissolved the lower house of France’s parliament in a surprise announcement, sending voters back to the polls, after his party was handed a humbling defeat by the far right in the European Parliament election.

With his centrist block squeezed on both sides by the far-right National Rally and a newly formed coalition of parties on the left that have banded together against the far right’s surge, Macron and his legislative candidates are furiously trying to steer voters back to the middle ground of French politics and away from what he describes as the extremes.

On Tuesday, Macron took aim at a campaign pledge by the left-wing New Popular Front coalition to make it easier for people to change gender in their paperwork. It is proposing that mayors and their deputies be empowered to handle such requests, which are currently managed by French courts.

Macron described the proposal as “completely ludicrous,” in a seeming appeal to conservative voters.

His comment dismayed campaigners for LGBTQ+ people. Campaign group SOS Homophobie posted on social media, “So the strategy is clear: exploit minorities in the race for power.”

In France, legislative elections decide the makeup of the parliament, not the occupant of the presidential Elysee Palace. Macron has a presidential mandate until 2027 and says he won’t step down before the end of his term, although he might have to share power with a far-right-led government.

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Morton reported from London. Associated Press writers Catherine Gaschka and John Leicester in Paris contributed to this report.

By NICOLAS GARRIGA and ELISE MORTON
Associated Press

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