President Nicolas Sarkozy forcefully defended his intention to return France to the heart of NATO's military command after 43 years away and insisted Wednesday that staying outside the alliance's highest echelons any longer would weaken France. Sarkozy said he would write to other NATO members to announce his decision after a debate next week in the French parliament. The French leader's drive to end the rift with the United States over its participation in NATO has aroused old and fierce passions among both leftist and some conservative lawmakers fearful that a closer relationship with the American-led alliance could limit France's cherished ability to act independently on the world stage. In a speech Wednesday, however, an animated and at times defiant Sarkozy insisted that France's "independence will not be in question" - a clear message to critics at home - and said France will maintain control over its nuclear arsenal. In 1966, President Charles de Gaulle abruptly pulled France out of the NATO command and evicted all allied troops and bases, including its military headquarters, from France in an effort to assert sovereignty over its own territory.