Leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have approved U.S. President Barack Obama's proposal for a new, expanded missile defense system for Europe. The agreement is a victory for the president, after a series of foreign policy setbacks.
President Obama says Friday's approval by NATO's main decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, will make Europe and the world more secure. "For the first time, we have agreed to develop missile defense capability that is strong enough to cover all NATO European populations, as well as the United States," he said.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the system is expected to cost $273 million over the next ten years. He will ask Russia, which had originally opposed the idea of European missile defense, to cooperate on the project.
The NATO agreement is one of the most important foreign policy achivements for Mr. Obama since he took office two years ago. On his trip to Asia recently, Mr. Obama had failed to get a free-trade agreement with South Korea or enough support from other countries to persuade China to change the way it handles its currency.
The leaders of all 28 NATO countries, meeting in the Portuguese capital, agreed Friday on a new strategic concept for the alliance. The new mission statement is intended to address new kinds of threats and challenges.
For that reason, Rasmussen is calling this one of the most important summits in NATO's 61-year history. "We will develop modern capabilities to defend against modern threats. We will reach out to partners around the globe. We will make a fresh start in our relations with Russia, with the aim of building a strategic partnership," he said.
President Obama said substantial progress was made in the summit's first day, and he expects more to be made in Saturday's meetings on the future of the war in Afghanistan. "Tomorrow our NATO allies, ISAF partners and the Afghan government will work to align our approach on Afghanistan, particularly in two areas: our transition to full Afghan lead between 2011 and 2014, and the long-term partnership that we are building in Afghanistan," he said.
NATO plans to phase out combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and continue training and humanitarian missions beyond that time.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be among those attending the session on Afghanistan.
Relations with Russia will be another focus of Saturday's meetings. Mr. Obama again called Friday for Republicans in the U.S. Senate to drop their objections and pass the New START nuclear reduction treaty, which he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in April. "But just as this is a national security priority for the United States, the message that I have received since I have arrived from my fellow leaders here at NATO could not be clearer: New START will strengthen our alliance and it will strengthen European security," he said.
NATO, which was founded to confront the perceived threat from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact era, is trying to improve its relations with Russia. President Medvedev will take part in the NATO-Russia meeting, and will meet one-on-one with Mr. Obama.