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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » March 4, 2009
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Informal NATO Summit in Cracow
March 4, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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Some 700 officials and more than 300 journalists flocked to an informal summit of NATO defense ministers held in Cracow, southern Poland, Feb. 19-20.

According to Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich, who hosted the meeting, the event was an organizational success. Speaking after the summit, Klich expressed his satisfaction that Poland showed itself capable of organizing a major international meeting, playing host to hundreds of guests from around the world.

However, commentators note that summit participants made no binding decisions in Cracow; they only debated a number of issues important to the Atlantic Alliance. The Cracow meeting was the last opportunity for NATO politicians to exchange their views on a wide range of issues before the Atlantic Alliance's Strasbourg summit in April.

Among the most important topics discussed in Cracow was the situation in Afghanistan and the future of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) missions. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates appealed to other NATO nations to increase their military presence in Afghanistan but, as commentators later noted, secured no clear commitments from his NATO partners that contingents would be expanded.

While in Poland, Gates confirmed the new U.S. administration's willingness to stick to plan to build parts of the U.S. missile shield in Central Europe, though he avoided giving any specific dates. He did say, though-and this was received with satisfaction in Poland-that U.S. officials' declarations last year about supplying Poland with a battery of Patriot missiles remain in force regardless of whether and when the shield project goes ahead.

NATO-Ukraine and NATO-Georgia Commission Sessions were an important part of the summit. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that the alliance, confirming its declaration from the Bucharest summit-during which the prospective membership of Ukraine and Georgia was announced-had started work on annual national adaptation plans facilitating Ukraine's and Georgia's roads to membership.

Another topic was the situation in Georgia after the country's 2008 conflict with Russia. In this context, summit participants discussed possible NATO aid for Georgia to help it overcome the effects of the conflict as well as the issue of Russian military bases in Georgia.

Klich confirmed that he held talks during the summit about Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski as a potential successor to de Hoop Scheffer as NATO secretary general. Klich highly rated Sikorski's odds to take over from de Hoop Scheffer once the latter's term ends this summer.

"I think a key argument that should be considered by our allies is Sikorski's experience in dialogue with Moscow," Klich said. "In fact Sikorski is the main politician behind the unblocking of Warsaw's dialogue with Moscow. He would be able to take advantage of this experience in his work for NATO to help the Alliance build channels of communication with Russia."
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