BRUSSELS - Defense Secretary Robert Gates will press NATO nations on Thursday
to provide military and police trainers for Afghanistan and also plans to
express interest in Russia's offer to cooperate on missile defense.
Gates is in Brussels for two days
of meetings with other NATO defense ministers and also expects to hold talks
with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov, probably on Friday.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speaks in Singapore June 2,
NATO regards its 36,000-strong security force in Afghanistan as its most
critical mission and the United States has repeatedly called on other nations to
contribute more troops and equipment to help defeat Taliban insurgents.
The current focus of US requests is reconstruction experts and embedded teams
of military and police trainers to work alongside Afghans so that the 26-member
alliance can one day hand over all security duties to local forces.
"I think countries are taking this seriously," Gates told reporters at
Ramstein US air base in Germany before flying on to Belgium. "I will continue to
press in Brussels."
Ministers are also expected to review procedures in Afghanistan in an effort
to halt a wave of civilian casualties threatening to undermine public support
for the alliance.
NATO commanders say some civilian deaths are the result of poor coordination
with Afghan forces and a separate, US-led coalition. They say they recognize
procedures must be tightened, accidents investigated more quickly and
humanitarian help offered to victims.
The NATO meeting includes talks with Russian representatives in the
NATO-Russia Council and Gates also plans to hold separate talks with Serdyukov.
A US defense official said those discussions would probably now take place on
Friday rather than Thursday, as originally envisaged, due to a scheduling
For months Russia voiced strong criticism of Washington's plans for a missile
defense shield which would involve a radar station in the Czech Republic and the
stationing of interceptor missiles based in Poland.
Russia presented the scheme as a threat to its own security and said the
proposed US bases on its doorstep could be converted to more dangerous uses in
the future. Russian talk of aiming missiles at Europe sparked alarm on the
The United States, for its part, has insisted the scheme is not aimed at
Russia and intended primarily to intercept long-range missiles Iran may develop
At last week's Group of Eight summit in Germany, Russian President Vladimir
Putin made a surprise offer to cooperate with the United States on missile
defense by sharing a Russian-controlled radar in Azerbaijan.
While some analysts have questioned how technically viable the proposal is,
the United States is portraying the offer as a sign the Russians have accepted
many of its arguments.
"I will certainly underscore our interest in exploring with them President
Putin's proposal with respect to the radar in Azerbaijan," Gates said.
"I'm very pleased that President Putin acknowledged that there is merit to
missile defense, that Iran does represent a problem that needs to be dealt with
in terms of potential missile defense," he said.
"I think there's a basis for some good conversations."