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Defense Secretary Arrives in Bucharest for NATO Summit

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

BUCHAREST, Romania, April 2, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates landed here today for the start of the NATO summit.

Tonight he will attend a working dinner hosted by the Romanian minister of defense with the defense ministers from other NATO allies to discuss defense transformation. The secretary is not scheduled to have any private meetings with other defense ministers, but instead is supporting President Bush, who is here for the summit.

The three-day summit will include meetings at NATO’s highest level in different formats, such as the North Atlantic Council, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the NATO-Russia Council and the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

The North Atlantic Council meetings start off first tomorrow morning with the main topic likely being NATO enlargement, officials said.

Albania, Croatia and Macedonia are hoping for an invitation to join NATO. All have been working through the membership action plan. Also, the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine have asked for an invitation to start the membership action plan process, a necessary step to eventually join NATO.

U.S. officials strongly support those actions, a senior defense official said on background en route to the summit.

Defense ministers from countries with troops serving in Regional Command South in Afghanistan will meet tomorrow afternoon, and afterward NATO heads of state and government and leaders of non-NATO nations contributing troops to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan will meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

The United States is hoping for an endorsement of a “strong” ISAF public vision statement that explains why NATO is there, what it has achieved and its plan for the next five years, the official said. The statement is expected to be published before the end of the summit.

Also, U.S. officials are hoping for an official NATO endorsement of the recently chosen United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, the defense official said. The job, created by the United Nations Security Council in March, is intended to help improve regional coordination of international agencies such as the U.N., the European Union and NATO.

In addition, U.S. officials want to ensure that more troops can be provided for the mission there. Canada’s parliament agreed to extend its 2,500 troops there on the condition that other allies provide 1,000 more troops and extra equipment for its mission in Kandahar province, in southern Afghanistan.

The defense official said it is not likely that any one nation will provide all of the troops, but some are expected to announce troop increases.

France announced this week its plans to send an additional “few hundred” troops. Also, the British are “likely to make an announcement” of adding more troops, the official said. Georgia also is looking at ways to provide troops to ISAF, he said.

The U.S. is sending 3,500 Marines to the region this month.

Other countries are expected to discuss how they can provide additional troops in smaller functional roles, such as trainers, and special teams, such as explosive ordnance teams.

While there is no session specific to U.S. missile defense plans in Europe, they are likely to be discussed in several of the groupings, the defense official said. “There is a growing ballistic missile threat to NATO territories and populations,” the official said.

The U.S. has plans to place missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic to protect NATO allies from long-range ballistic missile threats. But officials want NATO to begin developing a plan to build a “complimentary” missile defense system that would guard against short- and medium-range threats, the official said.

“There needs to be coverage for all allies, particularly those who are vulnerable to short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, so a territorial missile defense system would be appropriate,” the official said.

The U.S. wants the North Atlantic Council to develop options on what a complimentary NATO territorial missile defense system could look like and bring the plans back to the 2009 summit. The U.S. is hoping for an official statement from NATO that would endorse both the U.S. missile defense concept and promote furthering a NATO plan for a complimentary system, he said.

A formal gala dinner wraps up tomorrow’s events. The summit concludes April 4 with meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission and the NATO-Russia Council, which Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to attend.

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Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
NATO International Security Assistance Force

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