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Bush, Scheffer Discuss NATO Issues in Texas Meeting

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2007 – NATO operations in Afghanistan, transformation of the alliance and missile defense in Europe topped the agenda as President Bush met with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Crawford, Texas, today.

Bush called Scheffer a strong advocate for fighting terror, spreading freedom, helping the oppressed and modernizing NATO. The two men held a joint news conference at the Bush ranch.

Afghanistan dominated the discussions. NATO forces are helping provide security to a nation of 25 million. Afghanistan was a haven for al Qaeda, and Taliban terrorists want to regain control. Bush thanked the secretary-general for ensuring that NATO commanders have the forces they need to defeat the Taliban extremists.

“I pledged to the secretary-general, we'll work with our NATO allies to convince them that they must share more of the burden and must all share the risks in meeting our goal,” the president said.

Scheffer stressed the moral aspect of the operations in Afghanistan.

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

Some have criticized NATO for excessive civilian casualties resulting from its operations. “I know and you know that at any price NATO forces and coalition forces will try to avoid civilian casualties,” Scheffer said. “We'll do that, and we'll look very seriously into that.”

“But let me tell you one thing,” he continued. “We are not in the same moral category as our opponents, as the Taliban in Afghanistan. We don't behead people, we don't burn schools, we don't kill teachers, we don't plant roadside bombs, we don't send in suicide bombers. And if we talk about innocent Afghan civilians, yes, dramatically the result of our military actions could be that civilians -- innocent civilians -- are killed. But look at the number of Afghan civilians killed by the Taliban and by our opposing forces. In brief, we are not in the same moral category there, and that's, I think, a very important mission.”

Bush said Afghanistan requires more than simple military force. He and the secretary-general discussed a long-term comprehensive strategy to help strengthen Afghanistan's democratic institutions and to help create economic opportunities that will help the country survive and thrive.

NATO has grown well beyond its roots as a Cold War institution, Bush said. The alliance needs to continue to change to handle the security threats of the 21st century. “We talked about the need to have more special operations forces and strategic airlift capabilities,” he said.

Bush and Scheffer spoke about NATO enlargement and looked ahead to the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest.

“I pledged to the secretary-general that I'll work with nations that are interested in becoming a part of NATO over the next year to make sure they meet the requirements necessary for a country to be accepted into NATO,” he said.

Bush said that many nations in NATO recognize the ballistic missile threat from rogue states. “I appreciate the fact that the secretary-general agrees that U.S. missile defense plans complement NATO efforts to keep all nations safe from attack,” he said. Bush also said he will use the NATO forum to continue to reach out to Russia.

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