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Obama Meets Merkel, Does Not See NATO In Pakistan

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama inspect a military honor guard in Baden-Baden on April 3.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama inspect a military honor guard in Baden-Baden on April 3.

U.S. President Barack Obama says he does not expect NATO troops to have to enter Pakistan, but said allies should do more to help Islamabad root out safe havens for extremists.

"My focus on Pakistan does not envision NATO troop activities in Pakistan," Obama told a news conference in Baden-Baden, Germany, following talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before a summit to celebrate NATO's 60th anniversary.

Obama last month unveiled a new strategy for the conflict in Afghanistan, with a new emphasis on neighboring Pakistan which has been targeted by Islamist militants.

Standing next to Merkel, Obama expressed confidence that Germany would do its part to make the NATO mission in Afghanistan a success.

"I am confident that Germany will be stepping up to the plate and working to get the job done," Obama said.

For her part, Merkel said NATO should decide on April 3 who will be the alliance's next leader, declaring Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen an excellent candidate.

Turkey's prime minister had put a decision on Rasmussen in doubt earlier in the day by criticizing his handling of a 2006 crisis over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that appeared in a Danish newspaper.

But Merkel told the joint news conference with Obama: "I am convinced we should name a new secretary-general tonight."

Talks With Sarkozy

Obama had arrived earlier in the day to cheering crowds in Strasbourg, France, where he hopes to secure backing for his new strategy on Afghanistan at the two-day NATO summit.

He was met in Strasbourg by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the two greeted well-wishers behind security barriers before heading behind closed doors for bilateral talks.

At a joint press conference after their meeting, the French and U.S. leaders fielded questions about Afghanistan, North Korea's threatened missile launch, and the West's relations with Russia.

Sarkozy expressed backing for the recently announced strategy for Afghanistan and said his country was prepared to do more in the areas of police training and economic assistance.

"We completely support the new American strategy in Afghanistan," Sarkozy told a joint news conference. But he repeated his earlier decision that there would be no French military reinforcements.

"There will be no additional French troops [in Afghanistan] because the decision to step up our troop presence was already made last year," Sarkozy said. "We are prepared to do more in terms of the police, the military police, the economy, in order to train Afghans and work for Afghanistan. We are not waging war against Afghanistan; we are helping Afghanistan rebuild."

'Stalwart Ally'

Washington has pressed for such troop increases to complement its own deployment of an additional 21,000 soldiers to Afghanistan to help security and stabilization efforts, including to safeguard a planned presidential election.

"I think that France has already been a stalwart ally when it comes to Afghanistan," Obama told reporters. "So we discussed the possibilities of all the NATO allies reengaging in a more effective mission in Afghanistan -- which is military, diplomatic and deals with the development needs of both Pakistan and India."

Obama added that "it's not just a matter of more resources, it's also a matter of more effectively using the resources we have. And on this, I think once again France and the United States are on the same page."

With reports suggesting North Korea could test-fire a long-range missile any day, Obama noted that participants in six-party talks on the nuclear are united in opposing the launch.

"Should North Korea decide to take this action, we will work with all interested partners in the international comunity to take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that they cannot threaten the safety and stability of other countries with impunity," Obama warned.

He similarly warned against allowing Iran to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, saying, "We cannot have a nuclear arms race in the Middle East."

While noting differences with Moscow, Obama expressed a willingness to work with Russia without "go[ing] back to the old ways of doing business."

Much To Discuss

Obama, Merkel, and Sarkozy are gathering for dinner in Baden-Baden with their counterparts from the rest of NATO on April 3 as the alliance begins a two-day summit that is expected to largely focus on strategy toward Afghanistan.

There is plenty for the American and European leaders to speak about.

Their meetings come just a day after the G20 conference in London, where they pledged new steps to try to reverse the global economic downturn.

The back-to-back events underline the two major concerns of the Western world today: the global economy and collective security. In both cases, the approach is to create strong international fronts to face the growing challenges.

The NATO summit is expected to focus largely on the war in Afghanistan and U.S. efforts to bolster the government against the resurgent Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Afghan Differences

The United States plans to raise its number of combat troops in Afghanistan from a current level of 38,000 to 55,000. It also plans to send 4,000 more military instructors to help train the Afghan army.

But Washington is becoming increasingly impatient with having to shoulder the biggest part of the international effort in the country. U.S. forces already make up more than half of the multinational International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, which is under NATO control.

Now, as many NATO states remain reluctant to commit their troops to combat roles, Obama is expected to urge them to contribute more advisers on the civilian side. He may underline how that, too, can help stabilize the country.

But Afghanistan is not the only item on the agenda.

The alliance is also expected to discuss its strained relations with Russia following the August Russian-Georgian war.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a youth conference in Strasbourg on April 2 that the alliance favors dialogue with Moscow to settle differences such as those over Georgia.

"What can NATO do? NATO will not march in with military force. That's what NATO cannot do and that's what NATO will not do," de Hoop Scheffer said. "What NATO can do is talk to the Russians. This is one of those issues where we fundamentally differ. So, in using the NATO-Russia Council, which is, as you know, the vehicle we have in NATO for discussions with our Russian partners -- that is the place where we should discuss the differences of opinion we have."

Historical Context

The opening of the summit is filled with symbolism -- symbolism that was to begin, in fact, with Obama's border hopping to first meet the French and German presidents.

The gathering marks the 60th anniversary of the trans-Atlantic alliance, which was formed in 1949 as a counterweight to the Soviet Union and to create a new and more stable European security order following World War II.

Later, France dropped out of NATO's military command structure. But on April 4, the alliance will officially welcome Paris back as a full NATO member after 43 years.

The summit will also see Albanian President Sali Berisha and Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader take their place at the alliance's table as the representatives of the two newest NATO members.

The city of Strasbourg is under security lockdown as the 28 NATO leaders arrive through the day for the conference.

On April 2, French police clashed with protesters and arrested 300 people. A total of some 10,000 police are deployed around the conference venue.

compiled from agency reports