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Rumsfeld Calls NATO Defense Ministers Conference a Success

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Dec. 2, 2003 – As the NATO defense ministers wrapped up their two-day conference here today, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld termed the meetings "very successful" and said he looked forward to continued progress on the issues facing the alliance.

"We made progress on the NATO-Afghanistan relationship," he said. NATO's roles in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan either have been filled or are close to being filled, the secretary said, and discussions took place on an expanded NATO role there.

Rumsfeld noted the conference's first day, Dec. 1, marked attainment of initial operational status for NATO's new biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear defense battalion, a landmark in the alliance's transformation toward comprising usable, deployable forces.

He called NATO's relative lack of deployable forces trained and equipped to meet 21st century threats a problem that "has to be fixed." But the secretary expressed confidence that the issue has the entire alliance's attention as the NATO summit meeting scheduled to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in May 2004 approaches. "I'm hopeful that when we get to Istanbul, that issue will be front-and-center, among others," he said.

The conference also included what Rumsfeld termed "a lot of good discussion" on modernizing NATO's Partnership for Peace program. The partnership, which includes 30 nations, involves NATO working with the member countries to help their military forces learn to act in concert with NATO forces.

"It's a success story, without question," Rumsfeld said. "The linkage between the original NATO countries and these partnership nations is something that is good for everybody." He said today's discussions focused on updating and adapting the program to fit the 21st century.

The secretary also noted the contributions of forces from NATO nations in Iraq. Of the 19 NATO nations and the seven nations that have been invited to join the alliance, 18 have forces in Iraq, and Rumsfeld said most if not all have pledged to stay on despite recent high-profile casualties.

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