NATO Offers Limited Support To Obama
ROBERT SMITH, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Smith.
President Barack Obama is trekking through Europe, but he's talking about Afghanistan.
He just finished a two-day meeting with NATO leaders. His goal: Add to the planned U.S. buildup in Afghanistan with an infusion of NATO troops. But the president left Strasbourg, France, today with less help than he'd hoped for.
President BARACK OBAMA (United States): We'll need more resources and a sustained effort to achieve our ultimate goals. But these commitments of troops, trainers and civilians represent a strong down payment on the future of our mission in Afghanistan.
SMITH: President Obama is currently in the Czech Republic, then it's off to Turkey before returning home on Tuesday.
Don Gonyea is trailing the president for NPR, and he just landed in Prague.
DON GONYEA: Hi there. Glad to be here.
SMITH: So the president just wrapped up his two-day meeting with NATO leaders. Give me the scorecard. What did he want? And what did he get?
GONYEA: Well, they came here hoping for a pledge from NATO of some kind, perhaps for more combat troops. We didn't get a real number on how many combat troops he'd be looking for because they - as the president said, this wasn't a pledging conference with NATO.
It was a chance, his first time, to sit down with the other leaders of NATO nations and talk to them about his plan to really restructure and pour some new energy and manpower into the Afghanistan mission. So he didn't really ask for more troops, but they would've liked more troops. What they got is 5,000 more, but they're not combat. So it means the U.S. will still be doing the heavy lifting there.
The troops that NATO has pledged will be there for temporary elections security when the elections are held this summer, and they'll also be there to train the national army of Afghanistan. But again, no additional combat troops.
SMITH: But the president is a nice guest. He was gracious about the whole thing.
GONYEA: Well, he was. And again, he says that he recognizes that each country has to make a choice as to what it can do at any given time, and then they all come to the alliance, and they work out a way forward.
He described this as kind of a down payment on Afghanistan's future. And he made it clear that he doesn't see what they did here over the past couple of days - here in Strasbourg, where we were - as the final word on this.
The other thing he said is, be careful not to look at a noncombat troop as not being as important or as critical as a combat troop. He said there is a lot of work in many, many areas, some of it even civilian, that has to be done if Afghanistan's going to be turned around. It is all critical, and these will support the combat mission in very important ways.
SMITH: So, Don, you've traveled through Europe with another president, President Bush. What's the main difference you've seen so far with Obama?
GONYEA: Well, we've been in Western Europe on this trip. And I can tell you, there were places where President Bush was warmly received, particularly Eastern Europe. And I remember, you know, huge crowds in Albania to see him. But in Western Europe, if there was a big crowd to see George W. Bush, President Bush, it was a protest crowd, you know, 100,000 people here or there.
President Obama is really adored by the people of this continent. And you would never see President Bush go into a foreign audience in Paris and have 3,000 young people stand up and cheer him, as we saw happen with President Obama a couple of days ago.
SMITH: So Mr. Obama is now in the Czech Republic, stop number four. Very quickly, what's on tap for him?
GONYEA: This is the big speech of the trip. It's how to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. And then there are also meetings with the European Union. Again, it's all about putting the luster back into the trans-Atlantic alliance.
SMITH: NPR's Don Gonyea is on the grand tour of Europe with the president, in the Czech Republic.
GONYEA: My pleasure.