It was a “fine day for NATO,” according to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“I think that it was, for me, affirming of the decision to expand this alliance; it was affirming of the decision to keep new blood coming into the alliance, especially new blood of people who understand what it was to live under tyranny and now are breathing freedom and liberty with a kind of gusto and enjoyment that perhaps only those who have been denied it can have,” Rice said.
Rice was joined at the news conference by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.
“People really got off script,” Hadley said. “You know, the characterization of these meetings is people sitting around a table reading prepared talking points. In the discussions today, people talked with a first person and a passion that was interesting.”
In the end, NATO issued a summit declaration in which it:
— Invited Albania and Croatia to begin accession talks with NATO;
— Named the mission in Afghanistan its “top priority;”
— Acknowledged for the first time that ballistic missile proliferation poses an increasing threat to the allies; and
— Agreed to work with Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro in their quest for NATO membership.
NATO also invited Serbia to begin a dialogue with the alliance.
The declaration said that “Euro-Atlantic and wider international security is closely tied to Afghanistan’s future as a peaceful, democratic state,” and asserted that the alliance would not allow extremists and terrorists to regain control of Afghanistan or use it as a base for terror.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his country would send another battalion of troops to help in Afghanistan. The troops will be added to the eastern provinces of the country, allowing U.S. troops, who have been successful at squelching the troubles there, to move to the embattled southern provinces.
Also, Hadley said, another dozen or so allies have pledged contributions. He said that it will be about three weeks before the final numbers of troops dedicated to the region can be tallied, but that the commitment would meet the Canadian parliament’s demands that allies provide at least 1,000 more troops and equipment to the region in order for it to keep its 2,500 troops there.
In a show of support to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, NATO also committed to building an equipped Afghan army to 80,000 troops by 2010.
“Bottom line, a good day on Afghanistan,” Hadley said. “NATO has adopted a vision statement to explain the mission and the importance of the mission to their publics. They have developed and integrated a plan for integrating political and military instruments in order to try and achieve success there.”
NATO pledged to invite Macedonia to join the alliance as soon as it can work through the dispute over its name with its neighbor, Greece. Greece objects to using the name Macedonia, saying it implies claims on a Greek province of the same name.
“We encourage negotiations to be resumed without delay, and expect them to be concluded as soon as possible,” the declaration reads.
NATO reaffirmed both its open-door policy and its plans for developing a missile defense strategy in its declaration, which said that “far from posing a threat to our relationship, (those efforts) offer opportunities to deepen levels of cooperation and stability.”
Russia has opposed U.S. plans to place radars in the Czech Republic and Poland. The United States wants to develop a long-range missile defense system complimented by a NATO-led, short- and medium-range missile defense system.
“The NATO allies … asked Russia to stop its criticism of the alliance effort and to join in the cooperative efforts that have been offered to it by the United States,” Rice said. She called the declaration a “breakthrough document for missile defense for the alliance.” Russian President Vladimir Putin meets tomorrow with the NATO-Russian Council.
In the declaration, NATO said it would explore ways to link the United States’ proposed capability to current NATO-wide missile defense architecture. NATO tasked the North Atlantic Council, its main governing body, to develop options for a comprehensive plan for review at the alliance’s 2009 summit.
The declaration also reiterated the allies’ commitment to supporting the government of Iraq and agreed to extend the NATO training mission there through 2009.