NATO: Foreign Ministers Meet To Discuss New Missions, Possible Expansion
By Ahto Lobjakas
Foreign ministers from all 27 NATO countries -- including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- will meet in Brussels tomorrow. They will discuss the alliance's ongoing operations, including expanding NATO activities in Afghanistan and setting up a counternarcotics training program for Central Asia with Russian cooperation. NATO officials say they expect U.S. allies to seize the opportunity and to question Rice about allegations of unlawful CIA activities that may have taken place in Europe over the past few years.
Brussels, 7 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The allegations of unlawful CIA activities in Europe have overshadowed Rice's
ongoing visit to the continent and are likely to follow her to the NATO meeting in Brussels tomorrow.
NATO spokesman James Apparthurai said he would be "surprised" if the issue didn't crop up. He suggested the most likely venue for this would be tonight's "Euro-Atlantic dinner" hosted by Belgium, which will bring together all NATO and EU foreign ministers. ;
"This issue is not formally on the [North Atlantic Council] agenda for Thursday," he said. "That being said, I would not be surprised if it were to be addressed by ministers at the 'trans-Atlantic' dinner this evening. I would also not be surprised if it were to come up during the discussions at NATO, either in the meeting -- because ministers have the opportunity to bring any issue they wish to bring to the table -- or on the margins of the meeting outside the ministerial room, [or] potentially both."
Rice's assurances earlier today that the UN's Convention Against Torture applies to all U.S. personnel everywhere in the world is likely to calm tempers somewhat. However, it falls short of addressing other key European concerns about whether the CIA has operated secret prisons on the continent and whether it can still "render" suspects for questioning in third countries where torture might be used.
"The Washington Post" recently reported that the CIA has maintained secret terrorist detention centers on European soil. The United States has neither confirmed nor denied the story. If true, such prisons would breach human rights regulations.
NATO sources have told RFE/RL that the ministers will formally announce that the alliance's next summit will take place in Riga, Latvia, in November 2006. It will be the first NATO summit meeting held on former Soviet territory.
The ministers will also discuss ongoing operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans, Operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean, the Iraqi training mission, relief operations in Pakistan, and NATO's logistical assistance in Darfur, Sudan.
Apparthurai also said NATO will make an announcement concerning the mission of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan: "Ministers will also endorse the operational plan which will guide the expansion of the NATO mission into the south of the country."
Apparthurai said NATO ministers will also set out command arrangements dividing responsibilities between ISAF and U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in the south of the country. He said the two operations will retain a clear
division of labor.
"There will be a requirement to do two things -- have two clear and distinct missions between ISAF, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission, and Operation Enduring Freedom," he said. "They will do two different things. One focusing on stability. That's NATO. [And] one focusing on counterterrorism, counterinsurgency. That's OEF."
Apparthurai said ISAF and OEF will operate under one commander, who will report separately to the ISAF command and the U.S. Central Command, which will continue overseeing combat operations.
A NATO-Russia Council meeting tomorrow will discuss a Russian-proposed project to provide counternarcotics training for Afghan and Central Asian officials. A senior NATO official said all countries in the region are eligible to have their personnel trained. This includes Uzbekistan, which has not taken part in political NATO meetings since the brutal government crackdown in Andijon in May. However, NATO officials say working-level contacts with Uzbekistan continue.
An Uzbek delegation is in Brussels this week for staff-level meetings and will also discuss the plans for counternarcotics training.
A NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting will also take place to weigh Kyiv's membership ambitions. A senior NATO official said today that there is no agreement among the allies on establishing a Membership Action Plan for Ukraine, which would be a precursor to membership. Instead, Ukraine must continue working with an intensified Partnership Action Plan.
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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