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Obama, NATO chief discuss 2 nations

Associated Press / March 26, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President Obama and NATO's chief discussed how to more effectively fight Islamic militants in Afghanistan and achieve Obama's goal of putting US-Russian relations on a stronger footing.

Obama said he hoped yesterday's 45-minute session with Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and the upcoming new US plan for Afghanistan would "invigorate" NATO participation in the US-led operation, now in its eighth year.

The United States has about 38,000 troops in Afghanistan, and is the largest contributor to a joint NATO force. NATO also has about 30,000 non-US troops in the country. Obama has approved sending an additional 17,000 American troops this spring and summer, but has emphasized the need for a broader, unified international approach.

Ahead of NATO's summit in early April, the French and German ambassadors said their governments had not been asked to contribute more troops, but said commitment to the fight was solid. "We are prepared to stay as long as necessary," said the French ambassador, Pierre Vimont. German has 3,400 troops in Afghanistan and has been bolstering its force, Ambassador Klaus Scharioth said.

On Russia, Obama said he wants to improve ties with Moscow in a context consistent with NATO membership.

The alliance was founded after World War II to counter Soviet expansion in Europe. De Hoop Scheffer said that NATO and Russia should not hide their differences, but air them in careful negotiations.

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