Merkel says NATO must succeed in Afghanistan
In advance of next week's NATO get-together, Merkel also addressed other hot button issues, saying that the alliance must develop a new ‘security concept’ to enable it to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.Berlin -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that NATO has to succeed in Afghanistan to stop it becoming again a base for "terrorists" from which to attack alliance member countries.
"Afghanistan is NATO's biggest test at present," Merkel said in a speech to parliament ahead of the alliance's 60th anniversary summit in Strasbourg, France and the German towns of Baden-Baden and Kehl on April 3 to 4.
"For me our aim remains clear, against which our success will be measured, that Afghanistan no longer poses a terrorist threat to our security, in other words in NATO member countries. That is our aim," Merkel said.
"We should remember that Afghanistan ... was the base for the attacks of September 11, 2001. This was possible because there was no functioning state, and that was the reason for our engagement in Afghanistan, because it threatened our security, the members of NATO."
Germany currently has around 3,500 troops in Afghanistan, one of 41 nations forming the 60,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. The German parliament voted last year to increase this to 4,500. The US also has a further 10,000 soldiers there under separate command.
Next week's summit is expected to see Barack Obama in his first visit to Europe since becoming US President in January press allies in the alliance, Germany included, to do more in Afghanistan.
Germany's troops are based in the relatively peaceful north of Afghanistan -- 14 of its soldiers have been killed there in attacks -- but Merkel reiterated that her country is already pulling its weight in terms of police support and civilian reconstruction work.
"With our performances so far in Afghanistan so far, we as Germans can really see ourselves as part of the alliance ... I will stress this fully at the summit. I believe we can be satisfied with our performance," she said.
"Our principle remains the same: there can be no security without reconstruction, and there can be reconstruction without security."
She also welcomed Obama's moves to develop a joined-up strategy for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, but "without forgetting that not all Pakistan's problems are also Afghan problems. These remain two different countries."
Merkel also issued a firm no to any prospect of holding talks with the Taliban in order to put an end to the insurgency raging in large parts of Afghanistan.
"We must work more closely with those who want to reconstruct their country, who respect the standards of the rule of law, whatever they may call themselves ... But those who fight against reconstruction, who ride roughshod over human rights with violence and terror, cannot be our partners," she said.
Germany's mission in Afghanistan, the country's first major overseas military operation since World War II, remains highly unpopular at home, six months before elections that looking increasingly tough for Merkel's party.
A survey published this week showed 58 percent wanting German troops to come home and only 36 percent in favour of the mission continuing.
The German chancellor also used her speech to address other hot button issues at next week's NATO get-together, saying that the alliance must develop a new "security concept" to enable it to deal with the challenges of the 21st century -- and in time for the next summit.
She reiterated that Georgia and Ukraine still had the "perspective" of joining NATO -- a prospect that angers Moscow greatly -- but stressed that new members had to be democratic and "able to contribute" to collective security.
She also said she wanted NATO and Russia to improve relations and that she would discuss with President Dmitry Medvedev in Berlin next Wednesday his idea for a new European security architecture.
But she added that trust between Russia and the West had to be "cemented."
"NATO members and Russia are faced to a large extent by the same security threats ... The German government was a good and trusting relationship with Russia," she said.
"NATO wants Russia as a good partner. For 20 years now we have not been enemies any more. The time for the Cold War is over for once and for all."