October 27th, 2006 13:57 EST
Bush Praises NATO as Values-Based Alliance Ahead of Riga Summit
Washington -- NATO has become a "values-based organization" that is working with the United States on three continents to overcome "radicals and extremists," President Bush told the alliance's secretary-general at the White House October 27.
"You've made NATO a values-based organization that is capable of dealing with the true threats of the 21st century," Bush told Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of the Netherlands.
"The real challenge of the future is to help people of moderation and young democracies succeed in the face of threats and attacks by radicals and extremists who do not share our ideology, [and who] have kind of a dark vision of the world," Bush said.
De Hoop Scheffer's visit to Washington takes place a month before the heads of state of NATO's 26-member nations are scheduled to meet in Riga, Latvia. Issues to be discussed at the Riga Summit include ongoing missions in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq, Mediterranean patrols and assistance to the African Union in Darfur, Sudan. (See related article.)
"NATO is delivering security in the 21st century," de Hoop Scheffer told White House reporters. "And that means defending values not only in Europe, but far away from NATO's traditional area."
Afghanistan is a top priority for NATO. The alliance is in the fourth and final stage of taking control of security throughout the country, focusing on reconstruction and providing security while the country builds a self-sustaining democratic government. (See related article.)
NATO forces have been involved more heavily in combat operations in recent months, battling Taliban sympathizers as well as criminal groups and drug cartels opposed to the government in Kabul. Press reports said NATO forces on October 25 are believed to have unintentionally killed more than a dozen civilians during combat actions in southern Afghanistan.
When civilians are killed, de Hoop Scheffer said, "that's always a tragedy." However, he asked that people also "look at the broader picture." He said NATO forces are fighting groups that are "against democracy."
"Girls did not go to school when the Taliban was running Afghanistan. Now they go to school. … Now there is a government. Civilian victims are a tragedy, but we are there in favor of democracy. [The Taliban] are there to destroy democracy, and they are there to destroy our values," de Hoop Scheffer said.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters October 27 that NATO forces in Afghanistan "take every possible precaution that they can to avoid loss of innocent civilian life."
However, he said, "the Taliban is hardly discriminate in whether or not it kills innocent civilians. As a matter of fact, they target individuals who they perceive as, quote, unquote, 'cooperating' with their own government and with those forces that are there in Afghanistan to protect them from the Taliban."
During his visit to Washington, de Hoop Scheffer also held talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
A transcript of the press conference with Bush and de Hoop Scheffer is posted on the White House Web site.
For more information, see Rebuilding Afghanistan.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)