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NATO Summit Meeting

Volume 474: debated on Thursday 24 April 2008

I, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary represented the UK at the summit meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government in Bucharest from 2 to 4 April 2008.

The meeting focused on Afghanistan, including a meeting involving President Hamid Karzai, contributors to the NATO-led military mission and our key international partners. The UK welcomed the clear and unambiguous reiteration by the representatives of the international community of their long-term commitment to work together with the Government of Afghanistan to build an enduring, stable, secure, prosperous and democratic state.

President Karzai demonstrated Afghanistan’s readiness to assume greater ownership of this process by announcing that Afghan forces would take responsibility for the security of Kabul by August this year and would gradually assume responsibility for other parts of the country.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, reaffirmed the shared determination of the international community to help the people and Government of Afghanistan. He committed to closer UN co-ordination with President Karzai and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), through his new special representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, whom I met again in London last week. I fully support him in his important work and the UK Government will do all they can to help.

Heads of State and Government of all forty nations contributing to the UN-mandated, NATO-led ISAF, agreed a strategic vision declaration which committed to:

a firm and shared long-term commitment to Afghanistan;

support for enhanced Afghan leadership and responsibility;

a comprehensive approach which combines civilian and military efforts; and

increased co-operation and engagement with Afghanistan’s neighbours, especially Pakistan.

The UK Government welcome this declaration, which reinforces the approach that we set out in the revised Afghanistan strategy, which I announced to Parliament on 12 December 2007.

President Sarkozy, as well as signalling France’s welcome intent to re-engage fully in NATO’s military structure, confirmed his decision to deploy an additional battalion of French troops to the east of Afghanistan. This allowed President Bush to announce the movement of a substantial US force from the East, to Kandahar in the south. A number of other allies—including Canada, Poland, Romania and Slovakia—also announced increased contributions of troops, trainers, and helicopters, which were all warmly welcomed.

The alliance also made important political decisions on enlargement. Albania and Croatia were invited to start their accession, recognising the progress that both countries have made in their internal reforms and the role that they are playing in the region and beyond, including in Afghanistan.

The summit welcomed the commitment shown by Macedonia to NATO’s values and its contribution to NATO operations. The UK Government remain convinced that Macedonia’s rightful place is as a member of NATO and will continue to work for that to happen. We were disappointed that the alliance was not able to issue a membership invitation, but the summit did agree that an invitation will be issued. NATO leaders urged Greece and Macedonia to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the question of a name soon.

The summit also gave a clear commitment that Ukraine and Georgia will one day become members of NATO and offered support for their request for membership action plans. The Government look forward to a period of intense co-operation between NATO and both countries until they are admitted into NATO’s membership action plan.

The alliance had a frank and open exchange with President Putin on NATO-Russia relations. I and other NATO leaders welcome the Russian Federation’s assistance to ISAF’s efforts in Afghanistan, including through logistical support.

In partnership with President Sarkozy, we promoted the UK/France-led initiative to support helicopter capability upgrades and pilot training, aiming to make more helicopters available both in Afghanistan and for other multinational operations. Ten NATO partners made clear at Bucharest their intention to provide direct support for this initiative, and detailed discussions are now under way on the nature and extent of their involvement.

The Government remain convinced of the continued importance and relevance of NATO in international crisis management, but also that it must continue its process of reform to meet this challenge more effectively. I am therefore pleased that NATO accepted the UK’s offer to host an informal meeting of Defence Ministers this autumn specifically focused on reform. This will be an important opportunity to drive forward the modernisation of NATO and its capabilities transformation agenda.

Further important work was set in hand on NATO missile defence, to support the planned deployment of a US missile defence capability in Europe.

Through all these actions at the summit, the alliance demonstrated its continued sense of purpose and contribution to European, transatlantic, and wider international security.

Working ever closer with other international organisations, notably the EU and UN, a strong and effective NATO remains at the heart of UK foreign and security policy, as was emphasised in the national security strategy announced to Parliament on 19 March. I look forward to the 60th anniversary of NATO next year and to a summit to be hosted jointly by France and Germany in Strasbourg and Kehl. The UK Government remain committed to playing a full role in the development of the alliance.