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Obama: "America is changing"

In Strasbourg on Friday, the American president danced delicately, diplomatically and decisively.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Town Hall meeting in Strasbourg April 3, 2009. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

STRASBOURG — It’s a new world and the world’s oldest allies want to work on it together by strengthening their relationship and finding joint solutions to the litany of common challenges confronting them: Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, the Middle East — not to mention the economy.

Peace and partnership were the resounding themes in comments by President Barack Obama and President Nicolas Sarkozy when the two leaders emerged from a closed-door meeting that kick-started the celebration of NATO’s 60th anniversary.

(Read Mildrade Cherfils' Notebook from the NATO summit.)

But diplomacy was also behind both of their direct and indirect comments.

The two presidents stood side by side at a joint press conference outside of the Palais de Rohan in central Strasbourg and lavished one another with praise. Sarkozy expressed his admiration for Obama’s open-mindedness, and the American president commended Sarkozy’s energy and creativity in solving problems.

Calling NATO “the most successful alliance in modern history,” Obama said it was a pillar of American foreign policy that he wanted to affirm and uphold. But France’s decision to rejoin the integrated military command has not been without controversy at home, due to the perception that the country would lose its independent decision-making ability and be forced to go along with America’s military decisions.

With measured comments, both men addressed those concerns.

We want strong allies, Obama said, stating that America’s role would not be that of a “patron” but of a “partner.” But Obama added that everyone must be prepared to shoulder  responsibility and make sacrifices.

While stating his full endorsement for America’s plan in Afghanistan, Sarkozy was firm in his stance that there would be no more French troops deployed to fight. Instead, France was prepared to do more nation-building: providing more military police, for example, in order to help the Afghans secure a better future for themselves.

That sentiment was echoed by other European nations. A spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs said America’s approach in “trying to hunt down terrorists with a clear eye at the broader problem” was in line with the Netherlands' strategy of “diplomacy, defense and development.”

Job van den Berg declined to comment on whether the Netherlands would send more troops to Afghanistan as America has announced it will do, but he said his country has been “working in this integrated way” for years now and the approach was an inspiration for the new U.S. model.

And as if to remind the world of his independent-mindedness and fearlessness when it comes to disagreeing with U.S. policy, Sarkozy responded to a journalist’s question with: “You don’t combat terrorists with terrorist methods, but rather with democracy,” referring to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.