Afghanistan, Missile Defense On NATO Summit Agenda
Missile defense, Afghanistan, and NATO's new strategic concept will top the agenda as leaders from the Euro-Atlantic alliance gather in Lisbon for their annual summit this weekend.
And with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accepting an invitation to attend the gathering, NATO's complex and evolving relationship with Moscow is also expected to take center stage.
Speaking to reporters on November 15, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he expected the Lisbon meeting on November 19-20 to be "one of the most important summits" in the alliance's 61-year history.
"Overall, based on these concrete results -- a new strategic concept, the start of a new phase in Afghanistan, and a fresh start with Russia -- the Lisbon summit will be substantial," Rasmussen said.
"It will shape the future of our alliance. It will reinforce the foundations that have made NATO the most successful alliance in history."
New Missile System
According to press reports, NATO's 28 member states are close to reaching an agreement on a new ballistic-missile-defense system. The new system would replace an earlier version, which U.S. President Barack Obama scrapped late last year due to questions about its technical viability and in the face of staunch opposition from Russia.
The alliance is trying to persuade Russia to participate in the revamped missile-defense system as part of its rapprochement with Moscow. The United States, which is seeking to reset its relations with Russia, backs closer ties as do frontline allies Germany and France.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel today said she hoped the summit could prove to be a "milestone" in the alliance's relations with Russia.
Speaking before she set off to the Lisbon summit, Merkel said the idea of a joint missile-defense shield with Russia was "an essential point."
Meanwhile in Moscow, Medvedev's top foreign-policy aide, Sergei Prikhodko, said the Russian president would lay out his vision for joint missile defense when he addressed the NATO summit.
A session of the NATO-Russia Council, the first one to be attended by Obama and Medvedev, is scheduled for November 20 to discuss, in addition to missile defense, issues ranging from proliferation, counterterrorism, antinarcotics policy, and cybersecurity. The session is expected to produce a document outlining common threats NATO and Russia face and strategies for countering them.
The alliance and Moscow are also expected to sign a new agreement on transporting nonlethal military supplies to Afghanistan across Russian territory.
In remarks to reporters this week, Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, called the expected agreement an effort to build on Obama's efforts to forge a new relationship with Moscow.
"This is an opportunity for Russia and the NATO countries to complete the reset. We've had a reset in bilateral relations with Russia. The bilateral relationship that Russia has with many NATO countries has improved significantly over the past year," Daalder said.
"But the relationship within the NATO-Russia Council has lagged. We see this as an opportunity to move to a new stage in the relationship."
Eastern European Skepticism
But newer NATO members from Eastern Europe like Poland and the Baltic states, where memories of Soviet domination are still strong, remain deeply skeptical.
In an article in the November 18 edition of the daily "Gazeta Wyborcza," Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski wrote that he supports developing "constructive relations" with Russia that would be "positive for the security of both sides."
But Komorowski added that "relations with Russia should not be developed at the expense of the security interests of other countries in Eastern Europe."
Poland and other new members have been pushing for the alliance's new strategic concept to beef up defenses on NATO's eastern flank, which they say have been neglected since the end of the Cold War. The strategic concept, which updates and outlines the alliance's goals and strategies, will be finalized in Lisbon.
Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich announced on November 18 that in 2013 Poland and the three Baltic states will host an exercise of the NATO Response Force, a multinational contingent of about 25,000 troops. Klich also said Poland would host rotations of U.S. F-16 fighter jets and Hercules transport aircraft on its territory.
"The American presence on our territory constitutes an additional guarantee, an additional assurance that we are in an alliance where our allies would come to our aid if the situation warranted," Klich said.
Rasmussen, however, said that despite the lingering suspicion and mistrust a consensus was emerging for greater cooperation with Moscow.
"My strong sense is that Russia shares our view that the time has come to stop worrying about each other. The time has come to work together. And we will," Rasmussen said.
NATO is also expected to set a target to hand over security to Afghan security forces in 2014. The session on Afghanistan, which begins on the evening of November 19 and continues on the morning of November 20, will be expanded beyond NATO's 28 member states to include all 48 coalition partners participating in the mission.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who caused a stir by demanding that NATO reduce night raids against Taliban leaders, is scheduled to address the session on November 20.
Doug Lute, Obama's special assistant for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said that despite the handover, the alliance will continue assisting the Afghans.
"In order to reassure the Afghans that as they stand up they will not have to stand alone, NATO is expected to endorse an enduring partnership with Afghanistan. This sees NATO sustaining its commitment to the development of the Afghan national security forces," Lute said.
Obama repeated that message today, vowing to stand by Afghanistan after 2014.
The U.S. president wrote in the Portuguese daily "Publico:" "NATO, like the United States, can forge a lasting partnership with Afghanistan to make it clear that, as Afghans stand up and take the lead, they will not stand alone."
written by Brian Whitmore in Prague, with reporting by Richard Solash in Washington
Copyright (c) 2010. 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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