Rumsfeld Voices U.S. Support for NATO Enlargement
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
TIRANA, Albania, Sept. 27, 2006 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today gave voice to U.S. support for NATO enlargement at a news conference wrapping up a conference of southeastern European defense ministers here.
Many of the countries represented at the Southeastern European Defense Ministerial conference aspire to join NATO.
“Our country has been a strong supporter of NATO enlargement,” Rumsfeld said, noting that while new members are welcome, countries must meet various criteria to become part of the alliance.
“Part of it involves the response of the NATO nations, now 26 countries,” he said. “Part of it involves the progress that individual nations that aspire to become part of NATO have to undertake by way of reforms in the defense area and out of the defense area.”
Rumsfeld said he looks forward to “a number of countries” being able to join NATO in years to come. He said he’s encouraged by the growth of NATO’s “Partnership for Peace” program, which provides a mechanism for non-member countries to establish a working relationship with NATO that in some cases has led to full membership.
NATO has assumed progressively more responsibility for the security and stabilization mission in Afghanistan, and the secretary acknowledged it’s sometimes necessary to remind nations of their commitments or ask them for more help. But he said the member nations have been coming through.
“I have every confidence that NATO is fully committed in Afghanistan, and that the requirements that the military commanders on the ground deem as appropriate and necessary will in fact be filled by the NATO nations and, in some instances, by the Partnership (for) Peace nations and other countries.”
Rumsfeld said what happens in Afghanistan is important to Europe, Asia and the Afghan people who are putting their hope and trust into a free political system.
Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu said his country’s military participation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo has brought valuable experience that’s proving useful in the transformation effort for Albania’s armed forces. Mediu also emphasized Albania’s commitment to stay in Iraq until the mission is complete and to continue its role in peacekeeping and stability efforts elsewhere.
After the news conference here, Rumsfeld traveled to Slovenia, where he will attend an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers.