Bush: NATO still an effective alliance
ISTANBUL, Turkey — Despite an airport bombing and demonstrators clashing with police outside the Istanbul Summit, officials maintain the meetings of world leaders who pledged more troops for Afghanistan and possible help for Iraq ended in a steelier partnership.
“Some on both sides of the Atlantic have questioned whether the NATO alliance still has a great purpose,” President Bush said in a Tuesday speech.
“To find that purpose, they only need to open their eyes. The dangers are in plain sight. The only question is whether we will confront them, or look away and pay a terrible cost.
“Over the last few years, NATO has made its decision. Our alliance is restructuring to oppose threats that arise beyond the borders of Europe.”
Bush then praised NATO for its decisions on Afghanistan and Iraq. But to forge those deals, leaders had to hammer out diplomatic details. Germany and France foiled Bush’s plans to deploy NATO peacekeepers to Iraq. And Bush and French President Jacques Chirac sparred on the fringe topic of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
On Monday, NATO vowed to commit 10,000 troops to Afghanistan, up from the current 6,500, to secure September elections. A senior NATO official, however, said Tuesday that many would not be based inside Afghanistan but would be prepared to deploy there in case of a crisis.
The offer to train Iraqi security forces was more ambiguous. Germany and France refused to deploy there. The alliance compromised, agreeing finally that it was “possible” for it to train Iraqi security forces inside or outside the country.
On Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, asking how the alliance would meet its commitment to send more troops, install four new provincial reconstruction teams in the north and eventually move into the west. Karzai said the Afghans wanted NATO on the ground, and they wanted to vote.
“The key is to have enough voters, and we’re confident we will have 6 million registered voters,” Karzai said, according to the NATO official. In some districts of Afghanistan, the official maintained, more women have registered to vote than men — something undreamed of during the Taliban era.
Karzai also asked for the protection of ballot boxes. The alliance maintains that whatever help it gives, Afghan authorities will remain in charge of security.
Karzai later asked for immediate troop increases from the leaders of the 46 countries that make up the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council — NATO plus 20 other countries — that cooperate on missions, disaster response and exercises.
The alliance also disclosed Tuesday more about its agreement to pursue talks with the Middle East. The talks would most likely start with nations of the Gulf region, the senior NATO official said.
On Monday, de Hoop Scheffer characterized the initiative as merely an invitation to exchange ideas.
In his speech Tuesday, however, Bush implied it meant more.
“In Istanbul, we have dedicated ourselves to the advance of reform in the broader Middle East,” Bush said, “because all people deserve a just government, and because terror is not the tool of the free.”
The senior alliance official, though, later denied that the initiative implies coercion.
“NATO is not asking any Middle Eastern countries for reforms,” he said. “It’s only a dialogue.”
He also denied recent meetings with Israel implied undue influence over the initiative, saying that the alliance similarly meets with nations in North Africa and Jordan.
Bush also caused a stir over Turkey, a secular democracy with a predominately Muslim population.
“America believes that as a European power, Turkey belongs in the European Union,” Bush said. “Your membership would also be a crucial advance in relations between the Muslim world and the West, because you are part of both. Including Turkey in the EU would prove that Europe is not the exclusive club of a single religion, and it would expose the ‘clash of civilizations’ as a passing myth of history.”
On Monday, Chirac criticized Bush’s position — with CNN quoting Chirac as saying it was not Bush’s place to offer EU advice.
“In this area, it was a bit as if I were to tell Americans how they should handle their relationship with Mexico,” Chirac said.
More severe than verbal sparring were news reports of a booby-trapped package or wallet that exploded inside a plane at Istanbul’s airport, causing a cleaner to lose a finger Tuesday. Passengers already had left the aircraft.
Also Tuesday, police clashed with anti-NATO protesters near the summit area, dousing the gathered mob with tear gas, reports said.
A large part of the city around the summit compound was blocked off to all but official traffic.
The summit itself was held inside a military museum.