21st Jun 2021

Clinton to map out priorities with European ministers

  • Hillary Clinton is set to ask for a greater European commitment in Afghanistan (Photo: Munich Conference on Security policy)

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton will meet her European counterparts in Brussels this evening for a "transatlantic dinner" ahead of the Nato ministerial meeting on Thursday set to focus on Afghanistan, Eastern Europe and Russia.

"She will convey on behalf of the Obama administration our commitment to revitalising Nato, listening to our allies and consulting, hearing their views and building strategies together," Kurt Volker, the US permanent representative to Nato told EUobserver.

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The informal get-to-know-each-other meeting will also see non-Nato foreign ministers from Finland, Sweden and non-EU nation Switzerland attend.

Renewed commitment to the Nato operation in Afghanistan, which the Obama administration has put high on its agenda, is set to dominate the talks.

Ms Clinton will likely also be faced with questions regarding the planned US missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic after reports that President Barack Obama sent a secret letter to Moscow offering to back down from the project in return for Russian support against Iran's nuclear programme.

"What I said in the letter is what I have said publicly, which is that the missile defense that we have talked about deploying is directed toward not Russia, but Iran," Mr Obama said after meeting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday (3 March).

"To the extent that we are lessening Iran's commitment to nuclear weapons, then that reduces the pressure for, or the need for a missile defence system," he explained.

On the same day, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said the Kremlin was working closely with the US on the Iranian file, but not in the context of the missile defence shield. However, he did appreciate the American readiness to "discuss the issue" of the shield which the previous Bush administration considered a done deal.

"It's good, because several months ago we were getting different signals - that the decision has been made, there is nothing to speak about, that we have done everything as we have decided," Mr Medvedev said.

In a possible sign of Russian-US warming, Moscow reported on Tuesday that a first train with US supplies bound for Afghanistan had crossed its territory and was currently located in Kazakhstan.

On Friday, Ms Clinton is due to meet her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva for their first bilateral meeting since the Obama administration took office.

Before traveling to Geneva, Ms Clinton will meet European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, as well as the Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, on behalf of the EU presidency. She is also scheduled to participate in a public debate with European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering on Friday.

Croatia Nato-entry

Slovenia's potential referendum on Croatian Nato accession is also likely to come up at the ministerial meeting on Thursday at the Nato headquarters, meant to set out the main issues for the upcoming anniversary summit of the alliance from 2-4 April in Strasbourg and Kehl.

The US ambassador to the alliance still hoped "all our Nato allies" would ratify the accession of both Albania and Croatia in time for the summit.

However, the Dutch ambassador to Nato, Herman Schaper, maintained a more reserved line.

"What can we do about it? A referendum in Slovenia is not something we can oppose. We had hoped to be able to welcome both Croatia and Albania at the summit, but we're not sure anymore that that's possible," Mr Schaper told this website.

Considered a mere formality after the heads of state gave their green light at a Nato summit in Bucharest last year, the ratification of Croatia's accession protocol has now been delayed in Slovenia after two nationalist groups blocked the procedure by filing an application for a referendum on the issue.

The two parties now have at least five weeks to collect signatures from Slovenian citizens, while the Nato summit is only six weeks away. The groups said they might withdraw their initiative if Slovenian lawmakers pass a law on the country's sea border dispute with Croatia, an issue which also affects Zagreb's EU accession track.

"One of the conditions that were set out in the 90s for the countries who wanted to join Nato was not to bring unsolved bilateral issues and then to use your position in the allience to shut out others. Unfortunately, we have seen some of that", Dan Hamilton, director of the Washington-based Center for Transatlantic Relations and a former official in President Bill Clinton's administration told EUobserver.

Macedonia's Nato bid was also blocked by a bilateral dispute with Greece, while Nato-EU cooperation was hindered by the Turkish-Cypriot issue, Mr Hamilton added.

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