Obama, the pragmatist, wins NATO kudos but few troops for Afghan mission
The US president got a ringing endorsement of his new Afghanistan strategy – but only 3,000 new, mostly non-combat troops.
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Atmospherically, the summit was a polar opposite of the 2008 meeting in Bucharest, marked by sharp comments by then-President George W. Bush at a final dinner, when the alliance refused to offer a direct invitation to Georgia and Ukraine. Europe, Germany in particular, had signaled for more than a year prior to the summit that Ukraine and Georgia's entry into NATO was non-negotiable. Bringing those two into NATO would be seen as a provocation to Russia, they reasoned. But the Americans put on a last-minute offensive that was rebuffed.Skip to next paragraph
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Danish cartoons lead to drama – again
The only drama this year came when the candidate to replace the outgoing Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO's new secretary-general – Denmark's prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen – appeared stalemated by Turkish president Abdullah Gul.
The choice of the Danish prime minister, who in 2005-06 supported the right of Danish newspapers to print satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammed, was objected to by Ankara – NATO's only Muslim-majority member – as offensive and a possible provocation in Afghanistan.
Both Europe and the US supported Mr. Rasmussen. Mrs. Merkel, according to a Scandinavian diplomat familiar with the negotiations, told Mr. Gul that Turkey's position on the matter would harm its accession process as an EU member. France's Sarkozy described free speech as a basic human right in Europe that could not be compromised.
The final NATO press conference was put on hold, and several diplomats told reporters that Rasmussen would not be approved. Eventually, according to US officials, it was Obama who did some quick shuttle diplomacy in two corners of the meeting room – working an agreement that has Rasmussen going to a conference on civilization in Turkey this week, and giving a post to Turkey in the new secretary-general's office. The way was also apparently paved by a long conversation between Turkish prime minister Erdogan and Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, with the latter being phoned by the former as he stepped into a meeting with Merkel.
Two hours later, Rasmussen and Mr. de Hoop Scheffer appeared on stage, with the Dane grinning widely and at one point leaning collegially on his Dutch colleague.
Obama stirs allies by backing Turkey's EU bid
Some of the drama continued into Sunday, with the White House backing Turkey's eventual EU membership. Turkey, Obama's last stop on his European tour, has been seeking EU membership for decades, and its application is moving glacially through Brussels.
Obama's backing of Turkey was disavowed by today by France and Germany. As a presidential candidate, Sarkozy had clearly stated his opposition to Turkish EU membership, a diplomatic break with previous French policy, saying that Turkey was culturally not part of Europe. Merkel has been more circumspect in her position.