PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) -- After agreeing to expand their alliance deep into the former Soviet bloc, NATO leaders reached out Friday to the Central Asian nations whose assistance proved vital in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
NATO is eager to develop closer ties with the former Soviet republics that run through a volatile region north of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, seeing them as potential allies in the fight against terrorism -- a security challenge that has become a top priority for the Western alliance.
One senior alliance diplomat called countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus NATO's "next frontier." He said building ties with them over the next 10 to 15 years would be a new priority following the last decade's outreach to eastern Europe.
"We have to be bold," NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson told leaders Friday. "We have to look beyond traditional roles and infuse the whole process with new substance."
Robertson said NATO leaders discussed a "framework" for better cooperation against terrorism between with other 27 members of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council at Friday's meeting. The alliance "has committed itself at the very highest level" to the war on terror, he said.
Nations stretching from Ireland to Uzbekistan joined the 19 alliance leaders Friday on the second and final day of NATO's first summit behind the former Iron Curtain. "They reaffirmed the resolve of their states to fight the scourge of terrorism," Robertson said.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.