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NATO summit will focus on Afghan agenda

A STALEMATED Afghan war and the appearance of a new, untested American president will dominate a crowded agenda for the 28 nations of NATO gathering this weekend at the alliance's 60th-anniversary summit.

Afghanistan is likely to get most of the attention at the summit, coming a week after United States President Barack Obama announced a revised war strategy that counts on deeper military and civilian contributions from the allies.

The summit will be Obama's first chance to appeal directly to alliance heads of government for more help in the deadlocked US-led campaign to defeat the Taliban. The Afghan campaign is the only ground war that NATO has fought since it was founded in April 1949.

"I think this is going to be a highly consequential summit," said Nicholas Burns, a former US ambassador to NATO who was the State Department's No. 3 official until last spring. "This summit is going to revolve around a couple of big issues, and Afghanistan is going to be by far the most important."

The allies are unlikely to offer significant additional combat forces for Afghanistan at the summit. But they are expected to embrace Obama's focus on nonmilitary aspects of stabilizing Afghanistan and to underscore their shared view that Afghanistan cannot be allowed to regress back into an al-Qaida haven.

Burns, now a professor of diplomacy and international politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, said France's return to full membership in the alliance also is important.

France withdrew from the military side of NATO, while remaining part of its political body, in 1966.

"It's a very big deal" to have France back, Burns said. "It puts one of the strongest militaries in NATO right back in the center of the military part of the alliance." France, however, has signaled that it does not intend to bolster its military commitment to the Afghan campaign.

The 60th anniversary summit, being held in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, on opposite sides of the Rhine River, is meant to be more than a celebration of six decades of trans-Atlantic security and political ties.

The summit leaders are expected to launch work on a new "strategic concept" for NATO. It has not updated its core concept since 1999, prior to the fundamental shift in global security triggered by the September 11 terrorist attacks.


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