The U.S. Ambassador to NATO said Monday one of the key goals of an upcoming summit is to ensure the alliance is prepared for new threats _ comments that came as Iran threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz in response to an EU oil blockage.
United States, British and French ships were recently spotted on the strait where a fifth of the world's crude oil is transported, but Ambassador Ivo Daalder said Monday it was not a NATO flotilla. The EU's 27 foreign ministers imposed the oil embargo to pressure Tehran into resuming talks on the its nuclear program.
Iran says its program is peaceful, but the U.S. and other nations suspect it is trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran is now under several rounds of U.N. sanctions for not being more forthcoming about its nuclear program.
Daalder said the steps were among many being taken by the international community to force Tehran back to the negotiating table. "The alternatives are much more difficult," he said.
President Barack Obama is hosting the NATO summit in his hometown of Chicago in May. NATO leaders will look at military strategy throughout 2014, funding issues and how to boost the alliance's capability _ both in intelligence gathering and through its missile defense system.
Daalder stressed Monday that a plan to place missile interceptors in Europe was designed to protect against threats from the Middle East _ not Russia. Russia has threatened to pull out of a treaty designed to reduce nuclear weapons arsenals if NATO moves forward with the plan.
"We would like to do this in cooperation with Russia, but we will do it even if we can't find a way to cooperate," he said.
He also said NATO was seeking ways to boost its intelligence and surveillance power _ weaknesses exposed during the Libya air operation.
A concern for Obama and others during the summit, however, will be if cash-strapped countries continue to stay in Afghanistan until 2014.
The Socialist candidate for France's presidency on Sunday pledged to pull French troops out of the war-wracked country if he is elected in May.
The NATO meeting follows last year's summit in Lisbon, Portugal. At that time, the U.S. and its allies agreed 2014 would be the year Afghan security would be turned over to the Afghan government, but Europe's financial woes have called some commitments into question.
All 28 NATO nations are part of the coalition force in Afghanistan, in addition to contingents from 20 other allied partner nations.
"The U.S. has been fully committed to building the Afghan forces _ this year we are spending $11.6 billion on building an Afghan force," Daalder said. "We can't sustain that kind of funding over the long-term, nor can the U.S. be the only country responsible for sustaining that."
Still, Daalder said NATO was working with Afghan authorities and the international community to find a force level that was sufficient and sustainable.
"We made the judgment collectively a long time ago that it was necessary to deal with the security situation in Afghanistan by deploying our forces there," he said. "We remain fully committed. I think that's true for every country that's part of this operation."
The Chicago NATO meeting will coincide with the annual Group of Eight summit of industrialized nations,
Last year, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned NATO members they risk "a dim, if not dismal, future" if they don't begin to beef up defense operations and contribute more to military operations.