Clinton heads to Europe for Nato talks

December 03, 2012 - 6:42:14 am

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed yesterday on her 38th trip to Europe that may well be one of her last to the continent, a strategic US ally, as she prepares to step down early in 2013.

Ahead of her visit, Clinton took pains to stress the importance that the United States places on its ties with Europe and the ways in which the Obama administration has sought to revitalise the relationship.

“Visits to other parts of the world often get more attention, because I think it’s kind of taken for granted in a way that we’re going to be going back and forth across the Atlantic,” Clinton told a Washington forum. “But indeed, 38 visits to Europe is something that I have been delighted to do because of the importance we place on these relationships.”

Her six-day trip will see her visit Prague for meetings with Czech officials, take part in the Nato foreign ministers meeting in Brussels and then fly to Dublin for a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

One of the issues likely to be discussed at Nato is whether to agree to Turkey’s request to deploy US-made Patriot missiles along its border with Syria. 

Nato foreign ministers meeting tomorrow and Wednesday in Brussels are expected to signal support for alliance member Turkey by giving the go-ahead to deploy Patriot missiles near its border with Syria. The 28-nation alliance is more than likely to agree to Turkey’s November 21 request for cover from aerial attack, diplomatic sources said.

Military sources in Turkey have said Nato is considering the deployment of up to six Patriot batteries and some 300 foreign troops to operate the missiles. The US-made missiles would likely be supplied by Germany, The Netherlands or the United States. Clinton will also visit Belfast in Northern Ireland for meetings with top ministers before flying home on Friday.

Speaking at The Brookings Institution, she said the world was counting on European leaders to meet tough economic challenges ahead and offered assurances that the United States was not turning its back on old alliances.

“Our pivot to Asia is not a pivot away from Europe. On the contrary, we want Europe to engage more in Asia, along with us, to see the region not only as a market, but as a focus of common strategic engagement,” Clinton said.

She outlined how in the past four years they had worked together on many key issues—from the conflict in Afghanistan to ways to rein in Iran’s suspect nuclear programme, as well as the wars in Syria and Libya and climate change.

“But if the United States and Europe are not strong, stable and prosperous in the long term, our ability to tackle these and other issues will be put at risk,” the top US diplomat warned.

“So it’s vital to the entire global economy that European leaders move toward policies that promote credible and sustainable growth and create jobs.”

Clinton said she would travel to Prague “to discuss our efforts to promote Czech energy independence and to advance human rights and democracy,” and while in Brussels she will also discuss the future of energy security with EU leaders. She was visiting Belfast “to reiterate America’s commitment to a peaceful, prosperous Northern Ireland.”

Four years ago, when President Barack Obama came into office taking over from his predecessor George W Bush, the relationship with Europe “was frayed. There were sceptics and doubters on both sides of the Atlantic,” she said.

And while the relationship was now on a new footing, “we also need to remain focused on areas where our partnership still has work to do,” Clinton added.

“Perhaps the most important question in the years ahead will be whether we invest as much energy into our economic relationship as we have put into our security relationship.”

Clinton recalled that the United States remained one of only a few World Trade Organisation members not to have moved beyond most favoured nation statutes with the European Union, saying the two sides needed a comprehensive deal to aid trade on both sides of the Atlantic amid growing trade barriers. AFP