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Europeans cool to Afghan troop increase

STRASBOURG, France — European leaders offered few extra troops on Saturday for President Barack Obama's intensified effort in Afghanistan, underlining deep divisions within the alliance over the war.

For a NATO summit meeting intended to be without drama and marking the 60th anniversary of the alliance, the event has been fractious both inside the hall and outside.

Thousands of protesters clashed with riot police during the session on Saturday. And although officials finally came to an agreement on a new secretary-general — the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, 56 — the deal came only after days of hard negotiations to overcome Turkey's opposition.

As expected, European allies agreed to provide up to 5,000 new troops for Afghanistan, the White House said Saturday. But 3,000 of them are temporary deployments to provide security for the August elections in Afghanistan. A further 1,400 to 2,000 soldiers will also be made available, to form embedded training teams for the Afghan army and the police.

Obama is increasing the number of U.S. troops this year to about 68,000 from the current 38,000. But the new strategy, which the Europeans have pressed for, is aimed at creating larger and better-trained Afghan security forces that can defend the state and allow the West to leave. So the new training forces are important, Obama emphasized in a news conference after the meeting.

European nations also promised about $100 million more to support the training mission, with $57 million to come from Germany.

Obama has been greeted warmly on a personal level, but his calls for a more lasting European troop increase for Afghanistan were politely brushed aside.

NATO works by consensus, and the European-favored candidacy of Rasmussen was publicly opposed by Turkey. The Turks, NATO's only Muslim country, said that Rasmussen was insensitive to Muslim concerns during the scandal over the Danish newspapers' publication in 2005 of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. Rasmussen has also said he does not think Turkey will ever become a full member of the European Union.

Behind closed doors, in an extended meeting that lasted an hour longer than scheduled, the deal was completed. According to senior European diplomats, Turkey was given at least two NATO jobs, including a deputy to the deputy secretary-general, who is an Italian. Turkey was also promised that two blocked chapters of its accession agreement to join the European Union would move forward, and that Rasmussen would publicly address the concerns of the Muslim world about his response on the cartoons.

Protesters block a visit in France

It was perhaps not what Michelle Obama expected on her first presidential foray to France. But it was certainly very French. Protesters tangled the streets of Strasbourg and thwarted her visit to a cancer research center with other spouses of NATO leaders. So the visit was shelved, and they had an unplanned coffee with the French first lady instead. A few miles away, Molotov cocktails and tear gas canisters exploded.

On to Czech Republic and Turkey

In a major speech today in picturesque Hradcany Square in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, President Barack Obama will outline a blueprint for ridding the world of nuclear weapons that calls for the U.S. to reduce its reliance on nuclear arms and lead a new international effort to prevent terrorists from acquiring them. The plan would reverse the Bush administration policy that made nuclear arms a central pillar of U.S. security policy by maintaining thousands of warheads, expanding the targets against which they could be used and embracing the development of new weapons.

When Obama arrives in Turkey tonight for a two-day visit to Ankara and Istanbul, he will find a nation of nearly 72 million Muslims almost giddy at the prospect of improved relations with the United States. "He's going to be a rock star," said political science professor Ali Carkoglu. Turkey is an increasingly active player in nearly every major issue affecting U.S. relations in the region.

Europeans cool to Afghan troop increase 04/04/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 4, 2009 9:08pm]
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