Good afternoon. I'd like to report just a little bit on my first meeting here at NATO as the US Secretary of State but I'd like to begin by thanking very much the Secretary General for his outstanding leadership of NATO and my colleagues the Foreign Ministers of the NATO countries for their warm welcome here and for the excellent discussions that we just had.
It was frankly very gratifying to sit at this table with the members of this NATO Alliance to remember its extraordinary past which of course is a past that managed to, through common values and resoluteness, face down imperial Communism on this continent and to see the emergence of a Europe, whole, free and at peace with itself.
It is an Alliance that today talked about its common future and talked about how this Alliance, as great as it has been in the past, will have an even better future because it will remain devoted to those values and it will remain devoted to the spread of liberty.
It was remarkable in the sense that in sitting around this table we sat with nations that have not so long themselves lived in tyranny. The Baltic States, the States of Central and Eastern Europe and this great Alliance now united across Europe has an opportunity to deliver that promise to people beyond the transatlantic borders.
I was gratified by the fact that as the discussion went on it was very clear and very obvious to everyone that we agree on the agenda before us and that countries are prepared to take practical steps to advance that agenda.
We had an extensive discussion of Afghanistan, of the remarkable events that have taken place there in the last three and a half years, of NATO's seminal role in stabilizing that country, in the role of ISAF, in the role of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams--many NATO members have contributed to those teams. To the progress that is being made by the Afghans themselves first in having their presidential election and to the support that NATO must give to the parliamentary elections that will take place this spring.
We discussed the work yet to be done in the Balkans and in Kosovo but from a perspective of how far we have come in NATO's support for that process and in the discussion of, while there is work yet to do, the quite excellent work that was done in the turnover of the SFOR Mission from NATO to the EU demonstrating that the EU and NATO can work very effectively together and that Berlin Plus works.
We then went on to a discussion of the Middle East and I was able to report to my colleagues on my trip to the Middle East, my meetings with Prime Minister Sharon and with President Abbas. Everyone noted the historic decisions that are being taken, the historic and difficult decisions that are being taken by those two leaders, and pledged the support of all to the efforts that they are undertaking.
We had discussions also of Ukraine and the remarkable events that have taken place there over the last month. We look forward to a Ukrainian-NATO Summit meeting when President Bush is here on February 22nd and we look very much forward to continuing to work with Ukraine as it develops its democratic future.
Finally, we had a very good discussion of Iraq and I have to say that it is the best discussion of Iraq that we have had as an Alliance since the Saddam Hussein regime fell and in fact well before that; because it was clearly a unified Alliance. Unified because we know what the work is to do- to be done ahead. Unified also because the Iraqi people in going to the polls in large numbers despite the threats of terrorists to literally take their lives was reminiscent for this Alliance of what many around that table had gone through in their countries where people had died to be able to have the simple benefits of liberty and freedom and recognising that the Iraqi people had taken many of those same risks; and I think there was a kind of coming together of the common purpose that the Iraqi people have given us to support their historic turn for the better.
We talked about, and the Secretary General put before the Alliance, the need for continuing contributions to Afghanistan and especially for new contributions to support the evolution of Iraq and particularly to support its security forces and their training and the security mission that was established by NATO back at the Istanbul Summit.
I can say with gratitude to colleagues around the table that there were a number of countries that immediately agreed to contribute and a number of others that said that they would intend to contribute because everyone understands the importance of training the Iraqi Security Forces so that the Iraqis are capable of taking on their own security tasks--something that they are not yet capable of doing but something that, given the way that they took control of their own political future last week, that everyone believes they are quite capable of doing with the right support and the right training.
All in all it was a wonderful experience to be here at this great Alliance. It was a wonderful experience to talk about how this Alliance is going to move forward into the future and it is always a gratifying experience to sit in a room that is full of people united by common values, by a common past, by common sacrifice but more importantly by a common future.