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Bush Welcomes NATO Leader at Texas Ranch

21 May 2007

Afghanistan, Kosovo, missile defense top agenda at Western White House

Washington – Security in Afghanistan, Kosovo’s future and European missile defense figured prominently in discussions between President Bush and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer during a two-day meeting at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.

“The secretary-general of NATO has been a strong advocate of fighting terror, spreading freedom, helping the oppressed and modernizing this important alliance,” Bush told reporters at a joint press appearance May 21.

The Dutch leader’s visit followed the president’s May 17 meeting in Washington with outgoing British Prime Minster Tony Blair and marked the beginning of several weeks of intensive diplomacy for Bush, including a visit to Germany for the annual Group of Eight (G8) Summit that will highlight the continuing security challenges facing the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Afghanistan topped the agenda, where Bush and Scheffer reiterated international support for a long-term comprehensive strategy to secure Afghanistan, strengthen its democratic institutions, and help its elected government create new economic opportunity. (See related article.)

The United States has contributed 15,000 troops to the NATO-led, 37-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.  An additional 10,000 U.S. troops lead a second multinational force focused on training 100,000 new Afghan soldiers and police officers under the auspices of Operation Enduring Freedom.

But Taliban forces have compensated for losses caused by the 36,000-strong ISAF spring offensive by adopting new tactics aimed at increasing civilian casualties, such as staging attacks on troops from compounds located in crowded neighborhoods and the use of suicide bombers and roadside bombs similar to those seen in Iraq. (See related article.)

Unlike the coalition, which strives to avoid civilian casualties, Bush said, “The Taliban likes to surround themselves with innocent civilians.  That's part of their modus operandi.  They don't mind using human shields because they devalue human life.  That's why they're willing to kill innocent people to achieve political objectives.”

Nearly 1,600 Afghan civilians have been killed in insurgency-related violence in 2007, a statistic that is leading to protests against Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has urged ISAF to exert greater caution. The rising civilian casualty figures also have sparked concern among some leaders of the 26-member NATO alliance about the mission’s future.

“Afghanistan is still one of the front lines in our fight against terrorism,” Scheffer said, “And it is my strong conviction that that front line should not become a fault line.”   

Bush and Scheffer urged continued resolve, saying that more troops were needed and that several participating governments must give alliance commanders the tactical flexibility they need by lifting restrictions on how and where their troops can be used by NATO commanders.  

“We'll work with our NATO allies to convince them that we must share more of the burden and must all share the risks in meeting our goal,” Bush said.

NATO LEADER SUPPORTS KOSOVO PLAN

Scheffer expressed support for U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari's proposal for “supervised independence” for Kosovo, where 24 NATO members and 11 partner states maintain a 16,000-strong peacekeeping presence following the U.N. administration established in the Serbian province following the 1999 humanitarian crisis.     

The U.S. is backing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would establish administration by the European Union, continue the deployment of the NATO-led peacekeeping force and allow Kosovo authorities to declare independence while remaining under international supervision. 

Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power, has concerns about the plan, which Russia argues lacks safeguards for minority ethnic Serbs and might be used as a precedent to resolve “frozen conflicts” in neighboring Moldova, Georgia, and elsewhere along its periphery. (See related article.)

“A resolution is important,” Scheffer said.  “The Ahtisaari proposals are good proposals.”

U.S. CONTINUES MISSILE DEFENSE TALKS WITH RUSSIA 

The leaders also discussed the proposed installation of missile defense facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland -- another aggravating factor in U.S. and European relations with Russia.

The United States has advocated the bases as part of its commitment to protect its allies from a potential future missile threat from Iran and North Korea.  The Kremlin continues to see the system as a threat, despite consultations by the United States on the project since 2006 and recent visits to Moscow by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to offer cooperation in the development and operation of the system.  (See related article.)

Bush pledged that he would continue to engage Russia on missile defense, “to make sure that the Russians understand that this missile shield is not directed at them, but in fact, directed at other nations that could conceivably affect the peace of Europe.”

A transcript of remarks by Bush and Scheffer is available on the White House Web site.

For more information, see Rebuilding Afghanistan.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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