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American Forces Press Service

Gates Attends His First NATO Meetings

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

SEVILLE, Spain, Feb. 8, 2007 – After an overnight flight from Washington aboard an Air Force Air Combat Command E-4B aircraft, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived here to attend informal NATO meetings today and tomorrow.

This will be the first time Gates has attended a NATO conference, a senior defense official traveling with the secretary said on background.

The informal sessions, the official noted, provide a great opportunity for Gates to plunge into alliance business, to develop relationships with fellow ministers, and to participate in important alliance meetings, as well as bilateral – one-on-one -- meetings.

NATO defense ministers meet informally each year in addition to formal meetings. Informal meetings give the ministers a chance to freely discuss key issues concerning the alliance, according to NATO officials. These meetings have no fixed agenda and no decisions are taken.

During the different sessions of the Seville conference, Gates will participate in nine bilateral meetings and attend six “interventions,” the NATO term for short speeches. Much of the agenda, the official said, is expected to focus on NATO-led operations in Afghanistan.

At present, about 32,000 NATO troops make up the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. This includes about 13,000 U.S. troops. Another 8,000 to 9,000 U.S. troops are conducting training and counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan.

The upcoming spring is a pivotal moment in the Afghanistan conflict, the official said. The Taliban traditionally launch a spring offensive, and U.S. officials want to be ready for it. This year, he said, U.S. defense leaders want the NATO allies to be prepared to defeat such an offensive.

The offensive should be the alliance’s offensive, he said, and that’s the message the United States has been communicating to the allies. There is a lot of agreement with it in principle, he added.

U.S. officials are encouraging the allies to do as much as they can as soon as they can, the official said. The United States is going to increase its commitment there, he added, and U.S. officials hope the allies will contribute the maximum.

During NATO meetings in November in Riga, Latvia, and at a foreign ministers meeting in January at NATO headquarters in Brussels, the allies agreed to a comprehensive approach involving economic, political and military elements to further progress in Afghanistan.

The United States, Denmark and several other NATO countries indicated their intention to send more troops and to increase aid and civilian personnel to boost reconstruction and development efforts.

NATO countries made pledges at Riga, the official said, and U.S. officials hope they will fulfill their commitments.

The NATO ministers meeting in Seville also will discuss the alliance’s continuing military transformation, Kosovo operations, missile defense, NATO-Russia cooperation, and NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

From Seville, Gates will travel to Munich to address more than 200 delegates at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, scheduled to run Feb. 9 to 11. Each year, international defense leaders, U.S. Congress members and security experts gather to discuss common security concerns. This year’s theme is Global Crisis – Global Responsibilities.

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