Saturday, April 04, 2009

Heads of State Honor NATO Military Personnel

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

April 4, 2009 - President Barack Obama and heads of state representing the other 28 NATO member countries today honored NATO military personnel who died in service of the alliance's mission. On the banks of the historic Rhine River in Strasbourg, France, the heads of state stood in solemn silence broken by a lone military bugler playing what appeared to be France's equivalent of Taps.

"Today we honor in particular those who have given their lives on behalf of our alliance and we extend our deepest sympathies to their families and their loved ones," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said later at the start of the North Atlantic Council Summit meeting.

"We were able to take part in a ceremony on the banks of the Rhine River (to praise) NATO forces in various operations, and observed in silence and honored the extreme sacrifices of those who have died in the service of our alliance," he said.

NATO has some 32,000 forces in Afghanistan, complemented by roughly 38,000 American troops with the deployment of additional forces to begin in late spring.

De Hoop Scheffer said NATO soldiers our sailors our airmen who frequently risk their lives "so that we can live in complete freedom in our countries and safe at home." He added that the alliance also carries in their thoughts in prayers those injured in the course of the mutual efforts.

The secretary general welcomed military representatives from each of the 28 allies at the summit meeting this morning.

"Each one of you has experience in operations under NATO command and you are here to represent both your nations and your colleagues so that we can express to you, and through you to them, our most profound gratitude," he said.

De Hoop Scheffer reiterated his gratitude to the military representatives and the contribution they embody.

"I thank all of our NATO soldiers again, and express our deepest gratitude to your colleagues for their remarkable service that you continue to make to peace to freedom and to democracy," he said.

Officials Chart Alliance Future at NATO Summit

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

April 4, 2009 - NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer introduced Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as his successor in the alliance post during an end-of-summit press conference in Strasbourg, France today. Scheffer shared the podium with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who co-hosted the summit.

Rasmussen pledged to continue the good work begun by Scheffer to transform NATO to handle the challenges of the 21st century. He will assume leadership of the alliance on August 1.

Scheffer said the summit of the 28 NATO nations went well, and European nations have pledged to send another 5,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Sarkozy complimented the role President Barack Obama played during his first NATO summit. He said the president was easy to work with, "he showed his leadership, he showed how committed he was" to the alliance.

Scheffer listed the accomplishments of the summit, including Albania and Croatia becoming full-fledged members of the alliance.
"In the summit declaration we say we welcome France's decision to fully participate in NATO structures," Scheffer said.

On Afghanistan, the NATO leaders discussed strategy, "and the alliance is united in the need for an overall reagional approach." The alliance heads agreed more civilian personnel are needed and they offered long-term commitments to the fight, Scheffer said.

"They backed up this commitment with resources," he said. "We have established a NATO Training Mission Afghanistan to oversee high-level training for the Afghan National Army and training and mentoring for the Afghan police."

The alliance will deploy the necessary forces to support the Afghan elections in August, he said. NATO countries will provide 5,000 additional personnel and most will concentrate on providing security for the election activities.

"We will also maintain the trust fund to sustain the larger Afghan Army," Scheffer said. "The bottom line is this: when it comes to Afghanistan, this summit and this alliance have delivered."

The alliance chiefs also discussed NATO relations with Russia. The alliance members understand they must cooperate with Russia and want to do so, Scheffer said.

"We want to use the NATO-Russia Council to its fullest potential, to step up cooperation from Afghanistan to arms control to anti-piracy," the secretary general said. "But we must also use the NATO-Russia Council to air our difference – and we have real differences."

The Russia-NATO relationship can deliver more than it has to date if all parties take the necessary steps, he said.

"We will engage Russia in that spirit," Scheffer said.

A final aspect of the summit was the future of the alliance. The North Atlantic Council agreed to update the 1999 strategic concept.

"The new concept, which will be agreed at the next NATO summit, will need to update the theory with what we already do – from piracy, to cyber-defense even to Afghanistan," he said. "And it has to give direction to what NATO must do more in the 21st century."

NATO Council Formally Welcomes Albania, Croatia

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

April 4, 2009 - NATO today marked 60 years of operation by welcoming two new countries – Albania and Croatia – to the alliance during a ceremony in Strasbourg, France. The Western allies established NATO as a defense pact against the Soviet Union on April 4, 1949, in Washington.

The United States maintains the Washington Treaty, and President Obama passed copies of the treaty to the leaders of Albania and Croatia.
"We are very excited about your participation," the president said. "We are proud to have you as Allies."

"In these past 60 years, NATO has contributed to an unprecedented period of peace, freedom and prosperity for all its citizens," said NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. "It is testimony to what can be achieved by a transatlantic community that acts with a clear sense of common purpose."

Scheffer spoke at the beginning of the North Atlantic Council – the senior decision-making body of the alliance. Heads of state and heads of government for the now 28 member alliance sit on the council.

The 60th anniversary of the Washington Treaty was a time of reflection for the alliance, Scheffer said. "At the signing ceremony ... one of the statesmen present expressed his hope that this treaty between North America and Europe would become a 'permanent creation,'" Scheffer said. "Today, we can say with considerable pride that his hopes have come true."

But the world faces many new risks, the secretary general noted, and the alliance must look to the future. In order to maintain peace and preserve security in an unstable world, the alliance must adapt. This means studying the strategic concepts behind the alliance and ways to speed decision making.

Scheffer praised France's decision to rejoin the integrated command structure. "That decision reinforces the community and cohesion of our alliance," he said.

The alliance will discuss the way forward in Afghanistan, where NATO commands the International Security Assistance Force. Scheffer said alliance efforts in the country will take time and require perseverance, but it is necessary as the extremists in the country pose an international threat.

Scheffer also said the leaders on the council will make important decisions on the the long-term status of the alliance. All reaffirmed the fundamental principle that an attack on one country is regarded as an attack on all. But the leaders will discuss a new strategic concept – one that maintains the strong bonds across the Atlantic.