The conflict in Afghanistan and NATO’s relationship with Russia will top the agenda at a summit meeting starting Friday marking the military alliance’s 60th anniversary, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told CNN.
U.S. President Barack Obama, continuing his first overseas trip in office, arrived in Strasbourg Friday for two days of talks to be co-hosted by the German town of Kehl on the opposite bank of the River Rhine. Obama met French President Nicolas Sarkozy earlier Friday for talks which he described as “very productive.” Obama is expected to call on the United States’ NATO partners to take on a greater role in Afghanistan after years in which U.S. forces have borne the brunt of the fighting. Summit co-host France, which is rejoining NATO’s military command this weekend after more than 40 years, pledged a relatively small group of 150 gendarmes this week to help train Afghan police and observers wonder if Obama will face an uphill battle in bringing other allies on board. Scheffer called that “too gloomy a conclusion” and said European allies are already starting to contribute more. “That doesn’t happen in one big bang at the summit, but they are beefing up their forces,” Scheffer old CNN. “Afghanistan should not become President Obama’s conflict but should become a collective, coordinated operation of all of us.”
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De Hoop Scheffer said NATO was also trying to “re-engage” with Moscow after relations between the former Cold War military rivals reached a “low ebb” during Russia’s military invasion of Georgia last year. Obama made clear at the G-20 summit in London this week that he wants to restart relations with Russia. Some NATO members are reluctant to agree with him, particularly eastern European countries like Poland and the Czech Republic that used to fall under Russian influence as members of the Soviet bloc. Pierre Lellouche, an author and NATO watcher, said he believes those countries will come around to Obama’s plans. “Russia has to be part of this, simply because we have the same strategic interest,” he told CNN. “Now, it also means that the Russians have to stop thinking of tomorrow with the eyes of yesterday.” Saturday’s agenda will also see Albania and Croatia welcomed to the alliance as they finalize their accession process at the summit.
Some 300 NATO protesters were jailed Thursday in Strasburg, Germany, just across the border from the French side of the city, police said, and 105 of them were still held Friday. Thursday’s protest was violent, with demonstrators breaking property and throwing stones. All was quiet Thursday night and Friday morning.