The NATO summit Friday and Saturday in Lisbon, Portugal, presents a chance for Obama to stress the U.S. commitment to Europe and NATO, Ben Rhodes, National Security Council spokesman, said in a pre-summit briefing in Washington.
Besides developing a transition of security responsibilities from U.S.-led NATO forces to Afghan police, NATO ministers also will discuss NATO's new strategic concept that, among other things, outlines against what threats alliance members will defend.
Revitalizing NATO for the 21st century will "make sure that this alliance has a new vision, has new capabilities and a new organization to take on the very different security environment, globalized complex environment that we face today compared to the kind of security environment we had during the Cold War or even immediately after the Cold War," U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said.
The new Strategic Concept, drafted by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, will be "crisp, concise, concrete, short, direct, to the point," Daalder said.
A vision is important, but so is implementing the vision, he said.
"So we have proposed ... a set of capabilities that the alliance, in a time of dwindling resources, will decide it must fund," Daalder said. "Those are capabilities that deal with ongoing operations in Afghanistan, but also capabilities to deal with 21st century threats, including beefing up our cyberdefenses and embracing the deployment of missile defenses to protect European territory and populations against the growing threat of ballistic missiles."
The missile defense decision will be one of the key issues government leaders will face, he said, explaining: "Will we defend in the 21st century against armed ballistic missiles coming towards NATO territory, or not? And the alliance leaders will answer that question positively, we expect."
Daalder said no single country was in mind in developing the defense system; rather, "we're building a system to protect NATO from ballistic missile attack ... we're focusing on providing the capabilities to deal with ... the threat of ballistic missile proliferation to more and more countries as well as from more and more ranges."
Discussions on Afghanistan begin Saturday and Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to speak, said Army Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, special assistant to the president for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Lisbon summit is considered a "strategic milestone" for the Afghanistan mission, during which two themes are expected to be discussed, Lute said.
"The first theme is an announcement having to do with the beginning of a responsible transition to Afghan leadership ... putting Afghans in the lead across Afghanistan for their own security," Lute said. "And the second theme is an announcement having to do with an enduring longer-term commitment by NATO to Afghanistan's security and in particular to the development of its security forces."
The Afghanistan initiative will be "a steady, progressive process that will be carefully monitored by conditions on the ground," Lute said.
Also, to reassure Afghan citizens and leaders they won't be abandoned once security responsibilities are transferred, "NATO is expected to endorse an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, and in particular a partnership that sees NATO sustaining its commitment to the development of Afghan national security forces," Lute said.
Lute said U.S. officials interpret Karzai's recent remarks critical of special ops missions and the interaction of military personnel with Afghan citizens "as a call for an Afghanistan that eventually is stable, fully sovereign and self-reliant. And in that call, we have a lot in common."
Obama also will use the visit to Portugal to follow up with European leaders on global trade imbalances discussed during last week's Group of 20 economic summit in Seoul, another White House official said.
European officials have criticized Obama's economic policies, such as the Federal Reserve's decision to pump $600 billion into the economy to, among other things, ultimately create jobs. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has called on countries to balance their trade surpluses amid concerns imbalances are giving some countries an unfair economic edge.
Before Obama returns to Washington, he will meet with European Union leaders to discuss economic issues, such as U.S.-European cooperation on currencies and exchange rates, as well as trade and development, security and other foreign policy issues.
At the European Union summit, Obama will meet with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Barroso to "highlight concrete cooperation and the opportunities we have to do more together going forward," said Liz Sherwood-Randall, the administration's director for European Affairs.
The Western leaders will discuss cooperation in economic, security and global matters, Sherwood-Randall said.
In the economic arena, leaders will follow up on the G20 meeting and look for ways "to collectively sustain economic recovery and generate jobs, including by consulting on the best steps we can take to address current imbalances in the global economy," she said.
Sherwood-Randall said security cooperation discussions would concern "developing ways to enhance our work on counter-terrorism and law enforcement," focusing on enhancing already good cooperative efforts, looking for other ways to work together on cybersecurity and sharing best practices to combat violent terrorism.
Climate change and development are the two elements of the global challenge discussions, she said.
"(We) view a strong Europe as a stronger partner for the United States in meeting all of the challenges that we face in Europe and around the world and look forward to using this summit with the EU to advance those objectives," Sherwood-Randall said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will attend the summit-level meeting NATO-Russia Council, the White House said.
"This is an opportunity for Russia and the NATO countries to complete the reset," Daalder said. "The bilateral relationship that Russia has had with many of the NATO countries has improved significantly over the past year, (but) the relationship with NATO countries and within the NATO-Russia Council has lagged."
Leaders see the summit as a chance for the NATO-Russia Council to move from focusing on differences to "practical cooperation on a whole host of issues," such as piracy, terrorism, proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, he said.
Russia and NATO also are expected to sign a new transit agreement that would allow more goods bound for Afghanistan to be shipped through Russian territories, Daalder said.
"Our relationship with our European partners is a vital cornerstone of our engagement with the world," Rhodes said. "We cooperate with Europe on a whole host of issues directly, and then also cooperate with them on a host of global issues."
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