NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, left, meets with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the Pentagon, Sept. 28, a day before meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House.
WASHINGTON (Sept. 29, 2009) – President Barack Obama today called Afghanistan the most important mission to NATO and underscored that the war there is a multinational effort.
The president appeared with new NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the White House following talks that also covered missile defense and NATO-Russia relations.
“We both agree that it is absolutely critical that we are successful in dismantling, disrupting, destroying the al-Qaida network and that we are effectively working with the Afghan government to provide the security necessary for that country,” Obama told reporters after the meeting.
“This is not an American battle,” he said, referring to the 39,000 NATO forces fighting alongside 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. “This is a NATO mission as well, and we are working actively and diligently to consult with NATO at every step of the way.”
Rasmussen also underscored the multilateral approach, saying Afghanistan is “not America’s burden or responsibility alone.”
“It is, and it will remain, a team effort,” he said.
Obama’s remarks today come after he recently received an on-the-ground assessment from Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO and U.S. commander in Afghanistan. The president said he wants a new strategy in place – one that weighs the outcome of the Afghanistan election review – before committing more resources to Afghanistan.
Rasmussen, expressing optimism in the Afghan missions, endorsed the president’s stance. “I agree with President Obama in his approach: strategy first, then resources,” he said.
“I'm convinced that success in Afghanistan is achievable, and will be achieved,” he added. “And don't make any mistake: The normal discussion on the right approach should not be misinterpreted as lack of resolve. This alliance will stand united, and we will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to finish our job.”
The two leaders also discussed a new U.S. missile defense plan for Europe the White House announced this month. Putting aside earlier plans to build ground-based components in Poland and the Czech Republic, the United States has proposed a new sea-based approach, which it says is better suited to intelligence on Iranian threats and would provide protection sooner.
“We both agreed that the configuration that we have proposed is one that ultimately will serve the interests of not only the United States, but also NATO alliance members most effectively,” Obama said. “It allows for a full collaboration with NATO members. And we are very optimistic that it will achieve our aims and deal with the very real threat of ballistic missiles.”
Obama said the two leaders also agreed on the importance of reaching out to Moscow in an effort to further collaborate with Russia on missile defense.
“We want to improve generally not only U.S.-Russian relations, but also NATO-Russian relations, while making absolutely clear that our commitments to all of our allies in NATO is sacrosanct and that our commitment to Article 5 continues,” Obama said, referring to the point in the NATO charter stating that an attack on one member is an attack against all members.
The meeting also included discussion about a forthcoming strategic concept review that will articulate the role NATO is expected to play in the future.
“NATO has been so successful that sometimes I think that we forget this was shaped and crafted for a 20th-century landscape,” Obama said. “We're now well into the 21st century, and that means that we are going to have to constantly renew and revitalize NATO to meet current threats and not just past threats.”