NATO Opens With Good News For Obama

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At the NATO summit in Lisbon Friday, all member states have agreed to a missile defense system. NATO affirmed President Barack Obama's goal of having Afghan forces take the lead in providing security by 2014, while cautioning that some U.S. forces would stay to support them. Plus, NATO has signed on to a new "strategic concept" that takes into account new threats such as IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and cyber attacks.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

NATO troops will start leaving Afghanistan next year and hand over security responsibilities to Afghan forces in 2014. That exit strategy was endorsed today by NATO member states during their summit in Lisbon. NATO's secretary-general called the handover the process by which the Afghan people will once again become masters in their own house. President Barack Obama is among the world leaders attending the NATO summit. Yesterday the president announced that the member countries agreed on a missile system to defend Europe and the United States.

NPR's White House correspondent, Ari Shapiro, reports from Lisbon.

ARI SHAPIRO: The president was barely over the jetlag from his 10-day trip through Asia when he boarded Air Force One again, this time to fly across the Atlantic on a red-eye. Friday morning he was greeted by a Lisbon downpour.

(Soundbite of music)

SHAPIRO: At the regal Belem Palace, the military band was out but the peacocks who usually strut around the premises were hiding in the dam. Mr. Obama and Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva had lunch, then addressed reporters about one of the most important issues of the weekend, Afghanistan.

President BARACK OBAMA: And here in Lisbon, I look forward to working with our NATO and our ISAF partners as we move towards a new phase: a transition to Afghan responsibility that begins in 2011, with Afghan forces taking the lead for security across Afghanistan by 2014.

SHAPIRO: But putting Afghans in the lead does not necessarily mean withdrawing American forces altogether, as the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, explained to reporters later in the day.

Mr. IVO DAALDER (U.S. Ambassador to NATO): In the lead means that it will still have to rely on support from ISAF forces. How, where, what, is all dependent on the conditions on the ground.

SHAPIRO: Afghan President Hamid Karzai is here in Lisbon and Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet with him one on one this morning.

After meeting with Portugal's president yesterday, Mr. Obama motorcaded across town to a meeting with the country's prime minister. There, Mr. Obama acknowledged that his multiethnic family includes one member who is especially attractive to the Portuguese people.

President OBAMA: And I understand that there's been a fair amount of interest here about how my family has been enriched by Portugal as well - specifically Bo, our dog. He is the most popular member of the White House.

SHAPIRO: And he is, of course, a Portuguese waterdog. The NATO summit itself began late in the afternoon at a swooping expo center on the river. One by one, world leaders arrived. It was like the first day of school, except here everyone is the captain of his own football team.

Secretary-General Andres Fogh Rasmussen's opening comments were pointed.

Mr. ANDRES FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary-General, NATO): This will be one of the most important summits in NATO history.

SHAPIRO: That's because NATO signed on to a new strategic concept here. It's a set of guiding principles to carry the alliance into the 21st century - the first new strategic concept in more than a decade. President Obama described it to reporters this way...

President OBAMA: We're looking at the full range of capabilities that we need to secure our people, from more deployable capabilities to new measures to deal with new threats, like improvised explosives, to the cyber defenses that'll be so essential in the years to come.

SHAPIRO: One result of the new strategic concept is a missile shield system.

President OBAMA: We've agreed to develop missile defense capability that is strong enough to cover all NATO European territory and populations as well as the United States.

SHAPIRO: Ambassador Daalder explained the details of the agreement.

Mr. DAALDER: It's a phased system. It has four phases. In the last phase, the missiles deployed in Poland and Romania, which will be upgraded, will be more modern versions, will be able to intercept ICBMs being targeted at the United States.

SHAPIRO: Russia was generally thought to be opposed to such a system, but Daalder swatted that idea away.

Mr. DAALDER: So in contrast to the narrative one has heard that somehow missile defense was a problem in U.S.-Russian or indeed NATO-Russian relationships, missile defense is now a means to foster greater cooperation with Russia.

SHAPIRO: Russia is not a NATO member but President Dmitry Medvedev will meet with President Obama and other world leaders later today here in Lisbon. Then Mr. Obama attends an EU summit to discuss economic problems before he flies home to Washington.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Lisbon.

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