Rice Seeks More NATO Help in Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is asking NATO to send more troops to Afghanistan. On a visit to Brussels Thursday, she will also urge additions to the alliance, including two former Soviet republics.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Defense Secretary Gates has been taking turns with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appealing to NATO to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Today, Secretary Rice is at NATO headquarters in Brussels. She's discussing the need for more troops and she's also talking about possibly adding more members to the military alliance, which is a move that has likely to make Russia unhappy.

NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with Secretary Rice.

MICHELE KELEMEN: On the plane to Brussels from the Middle East, Secretary Rice was asked whether Canada has been persuaded to stay on in Afghanistan and if other countries will pitch in in what has been a difficult mission. Canada has troops in the volatile south but has threatened to withdraw if other countries don't add more troops. Rice was sounding confident before today's meeting started.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): Well, people have obviously been working very hard on this issue. The Canadian contribution is highly valued and so we need very much to be able to meet the circumstances that would allow Canada to continue.

KELEMEN: No one is expecting any troop commitments today though. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer opened the session saying they will talk about plans to guide what he said will be a stepped up international effort in Afghanistan. Also on the agenda is Kosovo, which recently declared independence from Serbia. He said NATO will continue to protect the Albanian majority and serve minority in Kosovo, but wouldn't weigh in to the debate about independence.

General JAAP de HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary General, NATO): NATO as an organization has not the authority to recognize a country. We are not in the recognition business. Our job is security.

KELEMEN: He says he's been encouraged that there has been no major outbreaks of violence, but the situation remain volatile. On another subject, the NATO secretary general said Croatia, Albania and Macedonia have all made progress towards membership in the alliance. The former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia also want to move closer to that goal, an effort that has angered Russia. Asked whether the U.S. is supporting this, Rice said that NATO is a performance-based organization. So when countries are ready for these various stages, NATO ought to keep the door open for them.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, at NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

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