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White House detailed U.S. goals at NATO Lisbon Summit

President Barack Obama’s goals in attending the NATO Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, this week are to reinvigorate the alliance and to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan, White House officials said here yesterday.

The president leaves tomorrow and will jump right into meetings. The trip is an opportunity for Obama to underscore the U.S. commitment to Europe and to NATO, said Ben Rhodes, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

The NATO leaders will discuss NATO’s new strategic concept. The concept will lay out how the alliance members will defend against new threats, “as well as how we work with other countries and partners around the world and in the neighborhoods around the Atlantic alliance to build security cooperatively with them,” said Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO.

As an adjunct to the concept, the United States has proposed a set of capabilities that the alliance, in a time of dwindling resources, will decide it must fund.

“Those are capabilities that deal with ongoing operations in Afghanistan, but also capabilities to deal with 21st century threats, including beefing up our cyber defenses and embracing the deployment of missile defenses to protect European territory and populations against the growing threat of ballistic missiles,” Daalder said.

The NATO leaders also will look at the alliance’s command structure and decide the best way forward. The United States has proposed reforming the way the alliance conducts business at many levels, the ambassador said.

The summit also will be a chance for the United States to continue resetting its relationship with Russia, Daalder added. This is the first NATO summit since the Georgia-Russia conflict and the first with Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“The bilateral relationship that Russia had with many of the NATO countries has improved significantly over the past year, but the relationship with NATO countries and … within the NATO-Russia Council has lagged,” he said. “We see this as an opportunity to move to a new stage in the relationship, moving from focusing on our differences and talking about them to moving particularly to practical cooperation on a whole host of issues.”

Those issues include cooperating on combating terrorism, piracy and combating weapons of mass destruction, Daalder said.

The summit also will look at Afghanistan. The NATO leaders will be joined by the leaders of the 20 other nations that make up the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said Army Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, Obama’s special assistant for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We are viewing this Lisbon summit as a strategic milestone for the ongoing mission in Afghanistan,” Lute said.

The leaders at the summit will discuss the beginning of responsible transition to Afghan leadership, Lute said. An announcement about an enduring, longer-term commitment by NATO to Afghanistan’s security, and in particular, to the development of its security forces, also is expected, he added.

The transition process begins next year and it will be a gradual process, Lute said. The goal, he said, is to turn over security for all 34 provinces in Afghanistan to its government by the end of 2014.

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