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NATO Chief Honored with Top US Civilian Award - 2003-11-12

U.S. President George Bush has awarded America's highest civilian honor to outgoing NATO Secretary General George Robertson. The Medal of Freedom was presented at a ceremony at the White House.

Mr. Bush said the medal for George Robertson is a fitting tribute to the man who led NATO during the most challenging years of its history. "Our alliance continues to face and to meet threats to peace and prosperity and freedom," he said. "Lord Robertson's leadership has been crucial to meeting these challenges.

Mr. Bush said under George Robertson's guidance, NATO has been transformed. "Lord Robertson is a patient leader, he's a determined leader, and over the past four years his skills and talents have made many achievements possible."

The president said the secretary general took on critics who said the alliance a relic of the Cold War and was not needed after the fall of the Soviet Union. He said that today, NATO is expanding and taking on new challenges. "Some wondered whether NATO could adapt to the new threats of the 21st century. Today, NATO forces are fighting terror in Afghanistan and supporting a multi-national division in Iraq," said Mr. Bush.

This is not the first time the Medal of Freedom has been awarded to a foreign dignitary. Past recipients include former South African President Nelson Mandela and former Czech President Vaclav Havel. But Mr. Robertson noted his award marks an important first. "I believe that I am the first son of Scotland to receive this, America's highest civilian award," he said. "I am very proud."

The awards ceremony took place during Mr. Robertson's last trip to Washington, D.C., as NATO chief. He will step down in December.