Afghanistan, Russia Top Clinton's European Agenda
March 05, 2009
By Ulrich Speck
BRUSSELS -- After spending the early part of the week immersing herself in Middle East diplomacy, Hillary Clinton is in Brussels for her first visit to Europe as U.S. secretary of state.
Stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan, and discussing the possibility of restoring NATO's formal ties with Russia, are expected to top the U.S. secretary of state's agenda in the European capital.
Clinton will meet March 5 with NATO foreign ministers to discuss ways of expanding cooperation with the Obama administration.
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker, in an interview with RFE/RL, stresses America's strong interest in a common trans-Atlantic strategy for the war in Afghanistan.
"As we conduct our strategic review, it's important that we hear from our allies their views, their concerns, their advice, so that we are able to factor that in our thinking as well," Volker says. "So it's really a matter of consulting, rather than delivering some kind of American plan."
U.S. relations with Russia and the security interests of new Eastern European NATO members will also feature heavily in the March 5 discussions.
With the Obama administration looking toward more engagement with Russia, some U.S. allies in Eastern Europe have, in recent weeks, raised concerns about the U.S. commitment to their security.
Clinton is expected to address these concerns, while explaining Washington's new approach toward Moscow. This includes the possible restoration of the Russia-NATO Council, established in 2002 as the formal framework for NATO-Moscow consultation and cooperation, which was suspended following the Russian-Georgia war in August.
Washington, as Volker says, is looking for a "stronger consensus within NATO" on how to deal with the many issues in Eastern Europe as well as the NATO-Russia Council's role in fostering a "constructive partnership."
Volker stresses that, in Washington's view, support for prospective NATO members Ukraine and Georgia, reassurance to Eastern European members of Washington's commitment to their security, and good relations with Russia are not mutually exclusive.
"We'd like to see a broad platform of policy within NATO where we work with a constructive partnership with Russia. We're able to raise issues of concern where we have them with Russia. We support people in Europe's East. We stand by our longstanding Article 5 commitments," Volker says.
"We do this all at the same time and we don't face false choices about this," he added.
There are signs that, as a goodwill gesture, Clinton may join those calling for the revival of the NATO-Russia Council.
On March 4, a NATO spokesman said that NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer hopes that the meeting of foreign ministers will result in the restoration of the NATO-Russia Council, while some among diplomatic circles in Brussels expect a positive decision.
Late last month, De Hoop Scheffer said that the alliance should "use the NATO-Russia Council not only as a fair weather institution, but also to discuss exactly these things where we fundamentally disagree."
On March 6, Clinton will attend a "town-hall meeting" with young Europeans in the European parliament and meet with the EU-Troika, consisting of EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana, External-Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who represents the rotating EU presidency.
In the afternoon, she will head to Geneva to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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