Brussels, 22 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush today hailed the first NATO summit of his second term as a success.
After the meeting in Brussels, he said he believes past divisions provoked by the war in Iraq are now behind the alliance. He said one of the most important results of the summit was the announcement that all NATO allies have decided to contribute to a training program for Iraqi security forces.
"Twenty-six nations sat around the table saying, you know, 'Let's get the past behind us, and now let's focus on helping the world's newest democracy [Iraq] succeed.' And I appreciate the contributions and the NATO training mission is an important mission. Because after all, the success of Iraq depends on the capacity and the willingness of the Iraqis defend their own selves against terrorists," Bush said.
However, the NATO contribution of 159 instructors and 3.5 million euros (about $4 million) falls far short of what Washington originally requested, and the evolving NATO mission is very small compared to the U.S.'s own training effort in Iraq.
A joint summit declaration today reaffirms NATO's "place as the essential forum for security consultation between Europe and North America."
On the surface, relations between the United States and the European allies who opposed the war in Iraq appear to be on the mend. NATO’s role, damaged in controversies over the war in Iraq, also received a boost today.
A joint summit declaration today reaffirms NATO’s “place as the essential forum for security consultation between Europe and North America.”
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said there is widespread support for the alliance to take on a more active role. "At length, government leaders, heads of state, discussed the political role of NATO, the stronger political role of NATO, and there was a lot of support for what I have been saying over the past eight, nine months -- that this political role is important, that NATO is a political/military alliance and that we should not shy away from discussing political subjects of relevance," de Hoop Scheffer said.
This is a riposte to a recent speech by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder suggesting NATO is no longer the primary venue for trans-Atlantic relations.
In his remarks to the summit, Bush also spoke in support of boosting NATO’s political role, describing the alliance as the “principal forum” for U.S.-European ties.
Bush strongly defended NATO’s record after the summit. "NATO is the most successful alliance in the history of the world," he said. "Think about that: The most successful alliance in the history of the world. Because of NATO, Europe is whole and united and at peace. And that is a milestone in the history of liberty."
However, diplomats say the wording of the NATO declaration was the subject of intense behind-the-scenes wrangling. The final text suggests Germany was able to force some concessions – another part of the declaration describes NATO as merely "a forum“ for consultation and coordination among allies. In parallel, it stresses the importance of a stronger EU, as well as the need to the enhance cooperation with the United Nations.
Signs of latent tension were also apparent in remarks made by French President Jacques Chirac. While praising U.S. interest in strengthening NATO, he also spoke of the importance of the United Nations and, according to a leaked text of his speech, said that as “the German chancellor has underlined,” NATO must “continue to take account of the changes that have occurred on the European continent.”
Perhaps the most visible result of the summit was the allies’ broad show of support for Ukraine. Diplomats told RFE/RL after the meeting that many NATO leaders spoke for strengthening ties between the alliance and Ukraine. Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Britain, the Netherlands -- among others -- pledged their support.
Bush praised Ukraine for the free elections that brought Yushchenko to power. He said the United States appreciates Ukraine’s wish to join NATO. "We welcomed President Yushchenko and reminded him that NATO is a performance-based organization and that the door is open, but it is up to President Yushchenko and his government and the people of Ukraine to adapt the institutions of a democratic state," Bush said. "And NATO wants to help."
According to officials, Yushchenko asked for deeper relations and said Ukraine wants to join NATO at some point. He asked NATO for a “clear signal,” but said it does not have to come in the form of a fixed date for membership.
Diplomats say Ukraine would first like to agree a Membership Action Plan with NATO. However, they say, this could take years. There was no detailed discussion of Ukraine’s membership prospects today.
In his public comments, Yushchenko affirmed Ukraine’s general desire to integrate into “Euro-Atlantic structures.” "The European choice made by the Ukrainian people opens up opportunities for taking [NATO-Ukrainian relations] to a thoroughly new level," Yushchenko said. "Our path is to use the possibilities of our country to the full. This includes the adoption of European political, economic, and social standards."
However, Ukraine’s moment of glory today came after an initial hitch. One diplomat told RFE/RL last week Yushchenko had "invited himself“ to the summit. NATO would have preferred a lower-level meeting and to delay the meeting with Yushchenko. However, once the Ukrainian president expressed his interest, it was felt a rejection could leak and send "the wrong signal.“