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23 Nov 02. Promising to ”fight the scourge of terrorism,” leaders of non-NATO nations from Ireland to Central Asia pledged yesterday to help the alliance secure peace and stability on both sides of the Atlantic.

NATO’s two-day summit ended with a declaration of strengthened ties between heads of state of the Western alliance and the former Soviet republics which provided vital military support to the Pentagon in the US-led war in Afghanistan.

”We all face the same new threats to the security of our people,” Lord Robertson, the NATO secretary general, said as NATO closed its first summit behind the former Iron Curtain. After agreeing to expand the alliance deep into the territory of the former Soviet Union, the 19 NATO leaders devoted their second and final day of meetings to talks with the 27 other members of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council on a better strategy for working together to ease the terrorist threat.

”They reaffirmed the resolve of their states to fight the scourge of terrorism,” Robertson said.

NATO views the council as increasingly important in ensuring stability and defense cooperation over three continents. It encompasses nations seeking to join the alliance, such as Croatia and Albania, traditional neutrals like Sweden and Finland, and former Soviet republics, including Armenia, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.

”The war against global terrorism must be waged on two tracks, through direct operations on the ground, through strikes against terrorists, their strongholds and helpers, but also by longer-term action focused on eliminating the environment which breeds terrorism and sustains it,” said the Croatian president, Stipe Mesic.One senior alliance diplomat said the nations of Central Asia and the Caucasus were NATO’s ”next frontier.” He said that building ties with those nations over the next 10 to 15 years would be a new priority, following the last decade’s outreach to Eastern Europe.

”We have to be bold,” Robertson told the leaders yesterday. ”We have to look beyond traditional roles and infuse the whole process with new substance.”

Putin’s foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, met with key leaders yesterday and said he welcomed NATO leaders’ assurances that the alliance’s expansion was not aimed against Russia. Russia and NATO will increasingly work together, as long as the alliance focuses on ”opposing new threats and challenges of this contemporary
world, the same challenges Russia is trying to counter today,” Ivanov said during a press conference. At least two Russians clearly wanted nothing to do with the alliance.

At the summit, the allies also agreed to establish a 20,000-member rapid response force to deal more quickly with terrorist threats. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the new force ”will contribute a great deal to NATO’s relevance,” though he said he was unsure what the American contribution will be. He said he would press new NATO members to reform their militaries and discuss how they can focus on niche capabilities.

The summit also reaffirmed commitments to purchase of new equipments including:

1. A dozen countries will buy systems to counter chemical and biological weapons
2. European Alliance members will acquire 40% more airborne tankers
3. Most counties aircraft will be fitted with ability to launch precision guided weapons by 2005
4. Germany will lead a group to acquire up to a dozen heavy-lift aircraft from either Antonov of Russia or the Boeing C-17.
5. Britain will bring forward Watchkeeper deployment two years to 2005; we understand that the MoD IPT leader presented final recommendations to the Government last Wednesday.

(Extracts from Boston Globe)

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