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NATO's Rasmussen warns Afghanistan over corruption

BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Wednesday urged Afghanistan to get a handle on corruption, after the military alliance's foreign ministers discussed the way forward in the violence-plagued country.

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul himself raised the issue during the talks in Brussels, after the Transparency International watchdog announced that his country remains near the bottom of its annual corruption perception index, Rasmussen said.

Rassoul vowed that his government is committed to fighting the trend, according to the NATO chief.

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"Corruption is theft from the people, it's a crime. It must be fought determinedly," Rasmussen said. "There is also a security aspect, because long-term peace and stability are very much dependent on trust and confidence between the Afghan people and government."

NATO is due to withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014, with planning underway for a successor training mission. Concerns abound that the country could descend into violent chaos after the withdrawal.

"We all know that the security situation in different parts of this country is still tense," Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet noted. "We would like to be absolutely confident and sure that ... a smooth development of Afghanistan will continue."

"We don't want Afghanistan to fall back into chaos, in a power vacuum, where terrorists and terrorism can thrive," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle added.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would like to see progress on "an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process" that would see all sides renounce violence.

The new NATO mission is designed to train more local soldiers and police officers, but key questions remain such as how many NATO troops it will require and how much it will cost.

"I don't think that today is already the time to be very concrete or precise on it, because finally it depends on what exactly is the situation in 2014," Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said.

NATO has also met an unexpected hurdle with the name for the mission, which had been tentatively codenamed ITAAM - until officials learned that it sounded similar to the Dari word for orphan, diplomats said.

The foreign ministers on Wednesday also tackled the subject of Georgia, meeting for the first time with the country's new foreign minister, Maya Panjikidze. Georgia had its first post-Soviet peaceful power transfer after parliamentary elections in October.

"Georgia is for NATO a precious and engaged partner," Rasmussen said, adding that the ministers had restated their wish to see it join the alliance.

But Tbilisi has been told more reforms are needed first. Rasmussen said that next year's presidential elections will be "another important test" and that ministers also urged Georgia to respect rule of law principles after the arrests of former politicians.

"We encourage all parties to work together to keep up that momentum, to make co-habitation work, to continue to pursue the necessary reforms and to meet the highest democratic standards," the NATO chief told ministers.

Georgia contributes about 1,560 troops to the 100,000-strong NATO mission in Afghanistan. It is also one of eight partner countries to have already signed up for the new training mission, Rasmussen said.
 

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