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Bush: NATO Is 'the' Vital U.S. Security Relationship

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2005 – President Bush called NATO "the vital relationship for the United States when it comes to security." Bush spoke during a press conference today at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

During a press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Bush said NATO has worked in the past, and all nations must work together to ensure the alliance works in the future.

The secretary-general said that all countries in NATO expressed strong support for operations in Afghanistan, and "strong support for the training mission in Iraq, where we have further ambitions in setting up the training academy, and where we have now fully manned and financed what we committed to do."

The secretary-general said government leaders discussed a stronger political role for the alliance. "NATO is a political/military alliance, and that we should not shy away from discussing political subjects of relevance," De Hoop Scheffer said.

Bush is in the midst of a trip to Europe to stress the importance of the transatlantic alliance and to mend fences with allies who disagreed with the coalition decision to liberate Iraq. Bush said NATO is the most successful alliance in history. "Because of NATO, Europe is whole and united and at peace, and that's a milestone in the history of liberty," he said.

Bush highlighted the changes NATO is making. "In order for NATO to be vital, it's got to be relevant," he said. "And if it stays stuck in the past, it's slowly but surely going to fade into oblivion."

The alliance has formed the NATO Response Force and the Chemical and Biological and Radiological and Nuclear Battalion. The military side has streamlined NATO's command, and the alliance is involved in the Middle East.

Bush thanked the NATO countries for their support in Afghanistan. Many nations participate in the International Security Assistance Force, and others support provincial reconstruction teams.

The president also addressed the Iraq rift in the alliance during the meeting. "First, many member countries have sent troops into Iraq as a part of the liberation of Iraq, and I thanked them there and I reminded them that, you know, every life is precious and we appreciate the sacrifices being made by their citizens," he said. "But 26 nations sat around the table saying, you know, let's get the past behind us and now let's focus on helping the world's newest democracy succeed. And I appreciated the contributions."

The NATO training mission is an important mission because, "the success of Iraq depends upon the capacity and the willingness of the Iraqis to defend their own selves against terrorists."

The president said the meetings were important and he was glad to have attended. "It gave me a chance to say that the relationship between the United States and Europe is a vital relationship, a necessary relationship, an important relationship, and our relationship within NATO is the cornerstone of that relationship."

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