LISBON - President Obama and dozens of other world leaders began a NATO summit meeting Friday to set strategy in Afghanistan for the next four years and agree to a new global mission to take the alliance into the 21st century.In the opening session of the two-day meeting, the 28 alliance members plan to adopt a new Strategic Concept, their first in more than a decade. The document will pledge retention of NATO's nuclear deterrent while promising to work toward reduction in weapons and an eventual nuclear-free world.
Members were still debating the wording of the concept as Obama met with the summit's Portuguese hosts after his mid-morning arrival. Several governments, led by Germany, want to link the alliance's expected approval of a ballistic missile defense system in Europe to the so-called "zero option" of eliminating all nuclear weapons. Obama set that goal last year but said it was unlikely to happen in his lifetime.
"There are three parts of the triangle," said French Gen. Stephane Abrial, who heads NATO's Allied Command Transformation, based in Norfolk. France, along with the United States, Britain and others, has insisted that missile defense, the existing nuclear deterrent and the zero-option ideal remain separate concepts.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held an hour-long private meeting Thursday morning with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who will address the summit Saturday. Karzai will also hold meet one-on-one with Obama.
U.S.-Afghan relations, always tense, reached a near breaking point last week as Karzai publicly called for a reduced foreign military presence and an end to "night raids" against Taliban commanders by U.S. Special Operations forces, which he said caused unacceptable civilian casualties and violated Afghan cultural norms.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has credited the operations with returning momentum to the coalition after the Taliban advances of the past year.
Petraeus plans to tell alliance leaders Saturday that more than 1,500 raids in the past three months have resulted in the death or capture of 368 insurgent leaders.
"We believe this is a fundamental tactic" that has turned the tide of the war, a senior NATO official said. Although Karzai's remarks, made in an interview with The Washington Post last Saturday, were an "authentic" reflection of the Afghan president's views, the official said, it was "clearly not helpful for some of the frictions that exist to be played out the week before the summit."
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as talks with Karzai continued here, said the two summit "deliverables" on Afghanistan would be agreement to begin a "transition" of security and governance to Afghan government control this spring, and the signing of a NATO-Afghanistan "partnership" agreement extending assistance beyond the projected end of the transition process in 2014.
The coalition has set 300,000 as a target number for trained and capable Afghan security forces by that time. Although recruitment has exceeded targets, training for those forces has lagged.
"We all know that Afghanistan is going to need our support for many years to come," the official said. The International Monetary Fund has estimated that Afghanistan will be unable to maintain and train a national security force of that size until at least 2023.