Clinton Attends NATO Meeting In Estonia

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attends the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Estonia. On the agenda: tactical nuclear weapons, what to do with them, deterrence, former East bloc states, and Turkey's concerns. Also, Afghanistan, Iran and relations with Russia. Melissa Block talks to NPR's David Greene about what was discussed.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Estonia today attending a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has struggled to find its role in the world. Now the organization is taking a hard look at its future. Central to that future are nuclear weapons and what to do about them.

NPR's David Greene is at the meeting in Tallinn. He joins us now.

And, David, we should say it from the outset that it wasn't clear until the very last moment that this meeting would actually happen - something about a volcano in Iceland.

DAVID GREENE: Yeah, have you heard about that volcano...

BLOCK: Yeah, a little bit.

GREENE: ...and the ash cloud? Yes, Secretary Clinton actually said today it was very touch and go. She actually was stalled for a little extra time in Spain on her way over here, because the cloud appeared to shift into her flight path. And Estonia's president was actually rushing to get back for at least most of the meetings here.

But I have to tell you, Estonians are very happy that this meeting came together. You know, for this former Soviet state that is a NATO member, this meeting is huge. It's really a matter of pride and Estonian officials have been really running around beaming.

And Secretary Clinton, when she spoke to reporters and took questions, actually sent a pretty tough message across the border to Russia. She said that Moscow does not have any veto power over former Soviet nations like Estonia. You know, if they want to be in NATO - which Estonia is -if they want to be part of the E.U., that's not Russia's decision.

BLOCK: And we mentioned that NATO right now is in the middle of some soul-searching, thinking about its future. What are you hearing about that at the meeting there in Estonia?

GREENE: They really - this is an alliance that really wants to reform itself. And at a big meeting in Portugal in November, that's going to be a very important topic: trying to trim the bureaucracy, get fewer committees in this alliance, and figure out its role in the world.

But a big part of this also is figuring out the role of nuclear weapons. We've heard a lot, Melissa, from President Obama, this new deal with Russia over reducing strategic longer ranged nuclear weapons. What NATO is talking about is shorter ranged tactical weapons. They're generally launched from planes. They can even be launched from submarines. And there's believed to be about 200 of these American weapons stationed in various military installations around Europe.

And there are some NATO allies who want to get rid of those weapons. They say, look, President Obama wants a nuclear-free world, let's do that. Let's reach that goal. But there are other NATO members, say, Turkey, and they're very worried about the proliferation in the Middle East, and they want NATO to keep these weapons there, so a big topic of conversation.

And the Secretary General Rasmussen was pretty strong today. He said the presence of American nuclear weapons in Europe is an essential part of a credible deterrent. And so it sounds like he's on board with at least keeping them for now.

BLOCK: Well, what's the U.S. position on that? What message is Secretary Clinton bringing?

GREENE: Well, she was speaking at a dinner tonight and we got a text of some of what she was saying from her aides. And she did say that broadly the goal of the Obama administration is to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons. However, she said that as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. So at least the U.S. is supportive of keeping these tactical weapons present in Europe.

And if they're going to go away over time, at least for now, the United States seems supportive of keeping them for the time being.

BLOCK: David, briefly, we have not yet talked about Afghanistan. Is that also on the agenda?

GREENE: Absolutely. It's the big topic tomorrow, Melissa. One U.S. official said even though if there are other topics on the agenda, the war in Afghanistan infuses everything that the alliance does, so certainly will be a big topic for conversation.

BLOCK: Okay, NPR's David Greene at the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Tallinn, Estonia. David, thanks so much.

GREENE: Thank you, Melissa.

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