The United States remains committed to "a strong and vibrant NATO," says President George W. Bush. Mr. Bush spoke at a White House meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. The meeting was the President's first with a foreign leader after his re-election. Mr. Bush praised NATO's "very constructive" role in Afghanistan and Iraq:
"[In Afghanistan] millions of people went to the polls to vote for a president in a country that had been ruled by the Taleban only three years ago. And we were rejoicing in the fact that the first voter was a nineteen-year-old woman. And NATO is playing a very active role in Afghanistan. And NATO is playing a role in helping to train Iraqi citizens so that they can become the people that defend their country against those who are trying to stop freedom. . . . We talked about the need to make sure NATO is relevant, that NATO is constructed in a way that is not only effective, but one that continues to foster free societies and democracy around the world."
NATO Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance has proven itself capable of taking on challenges in Europe and abroad:
"We delivered in Afghanistan. Less burqas and more ballot boxes -- that's what it's all about. We are delivering in Kosovo. We are delivering by setting up a training implementation mission in Iraq. There's no organization in the world like NATO, where twenty-six democracies are defending values: democracy, respect for human rights, freedom of religion, and all those basic values which are at the heart of all these twenty-six societies."
In Afghanistan, said Mr. de Hoop Scheffer, NATO will play a role in helping to establish security for parliamentary elections next year. The NATO-led International Security Assistance force in Afghanistan is made up of over eight-thousand troops from thirty-seven NATO and non-NATO countries. Initially restricted to providing security in and around the capital, Kabul, the alliance has expanded the mission to northern Afghanistan and is working to expand to other parts of the country. As NATO spokesman James Appathurai said, "This demonstrates that NATO is in for the long run and the alliance will play its role well into the future."