By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
March 6, 2009 - U.S. and NATO allies showed "unity of purpose" during discussions about their shared mission in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday. Following a meeting with NATO officials in Brussels, Belgium, Clinton said there was broad agreement among allies to ensure safe Afghan elections in August, boost economic development there and take a regional approach that includes Pakistan.
"We expressed a unity of purpose with respect to Afghanistan, NATO's most important ongoing operation," she said. "In Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pakistan, we face a common threat, we have a common challenge, and we share a common responsibility."
Participants at the meeting acknowledged a need for more resources and personnel in the region, said Clinton, whose trip comes a week before Vice President Joe Biden is expected to discuss future NATO contributions with allies in Brussels.
The United States has 38,000 forces in Afghanistan with an additional deployment of 17,000 troops to begin in late spring. NATO has 32,000 forces there.
NATO partners also are considering a "big tent" meeting among all parties with an interest in Afghanistan, Clinton said. The assembly could include international groups and donors, and even regional neighbors like Iran.
"We have presented this idea ... as a way of bringing all the stakeholders and interested parties together. If we move forward with such a meeting, it is expected that Iran would be invited as a neighbor of Afghanistan," she said.
The NATO talks yesterday also covered Russia and European missile defense.
The political and military alliance decided to restart the NATO-Russia Council, Clinton said. The relationship will serve as a means for dialogue with Moscow on issues of disagreement -- including relations with the former Soviet republic of Georgia -- and items of mutual interest like transit to Afghanistan and nuclear nonproliferation.
"We can and do agree that we must find ways to work constructively with Russia where we share areas of common interest. We also agree we must find ways to manage our differences with Russia where they persist, and stand firm where our principles or our vital interests are at stake," she said.
Speaking about a proposal to place U.S. missile defense components in Poland and the Czech Republic -- a move that has stirred resentment in Moscow -- Clinton said, "Europe has a right to defend itself" from 21st-century threats. U.S. officials have repeatedly asserted that European missile defense is not aimed at weakening Russia.
"We applaud the decisions by the people of the Czech Republic and their government -- as well as the people and government of Poland -- for proceeding with missile defense on their soil," she said.
"It has always been the American position that missile defense is primarily aimed at a nation like Iran or networks of terrorists that could obtain deliverable nuclear or conventional or biological or chemical weapons, and the missiles to use that," she added.