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Obama, NATO Chief Review Alliance Missions


U.S. President Barack Obama said his goal is to help create a stronger NATO. Mr. Obama said he wants to see an invigorated NATO presence in Afghanistan.

NATO celebrates its 60th anniversary at the end of next week with a summit in the heart of Europe - along the French-German border.

President Obama said it will be an opportunity to not just review the successes of the past, but to look to the future.

"We have a set of challenges that require NATO to shift from the 20th century to the 21st century; issues of terrorism, failed states, nuclear proliferation, a whole host of new challenges as well as the traditional role NATO has played in preserving the territorial integrity of NATO members," he said.

The president spoke after talks at the White House with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Mr. Obama told reporters they reviewed the agenda for the upcoming summit - with Afghanistan right at the top.

The president noted his administration is completing a detailed review of its Afghanistan strategy. He said there has been consultation with the NATO allies, and predicted detailed discussions at the summit.

"We believe that we are going to be able to ensure that the NATO members that made so many sacrifices and have been working so hard already are reinvigorated and that the coordination that is going to be taking place will make it even more effective for us as we complete a successful NATO mission," he said.

President Obama went on to talk about the importance of improved relations with Russia. But he also stressed the need to expand NATO to any country that meets the criteria for membership.

Last year, NATO discussed bids for membership from Ukraine and Georgia - a move that angered Moscow. Ties were further strained last August when Russia sent extra troops into Georgia in the midst of a dispute over two Georgian separatist regions: South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Neither the president nor the NATO chief mentioned the conflict, nor did they specifically talk about the prospects that one day Georgia and Ukraine might be admitted to the alliance.

Instead, they talked about their support for NATO enlargement in general. And the NATO secretary-general stressed that despite their differences with Russia, the stakes are too high to turn away.

"NATO needs Russia and Russia needs NATO so let us work on the things we agree on. And let us not hide our disagreements and let us realize also that this relationship can and in my opinion should be strengthened," said Scheffer.

The gathering on April 3 and 4 will be the last NATO summit for Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. His term as secretary-general runs out in July.
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