NATO Leaders gathered along the French-German border Saturday for the
summit to mark the alliance's 60th anniversary. Events are being
marked by remembrances of the past and plans for the future.
It was a symbolic beginning to a day of ceremony and discussions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel met NATO leaders on the German side of the Rhine River and together they walked across a bridge where they were met by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who then welcomed them into France.
A bugle call and a moment of silence for NATO soldiers who have died in past and current combat missions - including in Afghanistan where over 1,000 NATO coalition troops have been killed.
NATO Secretary-General Japp de Hoop Scheffer opened the day's formal meetings.
"In these past 60 years, NATO has contributed to an unprecedented period of peace, freedom and prosperity for all its citizens. It is testimony to what can be achieved by a transatlantic community that acts with a clear sense of common purpose," he said.
President Sarkozy said the fact that France and Germany, once such bitter enemies, were co-hosting this anniversary summit is testimony to what NATO has achieved.
"There have been millions dead between us, he said, and it is now our duty to cherish the friendship between our two peoples as a special treasure," he said.
President Sarkozy formally announced that France is rejoining NATO's integrated military command, after a more than 40 year hiatus. The French leader also had a warm welcome for U.S. President Barack Obama.
"We've heard the words he spoke on behalf of the world's number one democracy, he said - we've been waiting for these words for a long and he should know that the has friends and that Europe will from now on be an even stronger pillar that he can count on," he said.
The French leader also praised the Obama administration's new strategy on Afghanistan - with its focus on training Afghan security forces and emphasis on both military operations and civilian development work.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also endorsed the new Obama concept.
She said the new American strategy fits well into the shared thinking among NATO members. "We want Afghanization," she said. "We want Afghanistan to be able to defend itself and ensure that no threat of terrorism emanates from its territory."
She promised that Germany would continue to fulfill its commitments in Afghanistan.
And, two new members joined the alliance at this summit.
President Obama formally welcomed Albania and Croatia.
"Welcome to NATO. We are excited about your participation," he said. "The alliance is 60 years old and it is a measure of our vitality that we are still welcoming new members."
President Obama said the door to additional members remains open.
The summit ends later in the day.