- The Washington Times - Friday, April 23, 2010

TALLINN, Estonia | Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday ruled out an early withdrawal of U.S. nuclear forces from Europe, telling a NATO meeting that any reductions should be tied to a nuclear pullback by Russia, which has far more of the weapons in range of European targets.

No such negotiation with Russia is in the offing, and Moscow has shown little interest thus far in bargaining away its tactical nuclear arms.

Mrs. Clinton also said the Obama administration wants NATO to accept missile defense as a core mission of the alliance, making it part of a broader effort to combat the dangers posed by nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and the missiles that deliver them. She said missile defense and nuclear weapons are complementary means of deterring an attack on the U.S. and its alliance partners.

A copy of her prepared remarks, delivered at a private dinner she attended with representatives of 27 other NATO member countries, was provided by her staff.

Shortly before she spoke, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference that, in his view, the U.S. nuclear weapons play a vital defensive role in Europe and should not be removed as long as other countries possess nuclear weapons.

“I do believe that the presence of the American nuclear weapons in Europe is an essential part of a credible deterrent,” Mr. Fogh Rasmussen said.

Some European members of NATO, including Germany, have said the time has come for the U.S. to withdraw its remaining Cold War-era nuclear weapons from Europe. They cite President Obama’s pledge in Prague last year to seek a nuclear-free world.

But some newer NATO members who previously were part of the former Soviet Union or its Warsaw Pact military bloc are opposed to a U.S. nuclear withdrawal. They argue that the presence of the weapons is the surest guarantee of their territorial integrity.

In her dinner remarks, Mrs. Clinton made clear that as NATO embarks on a discussion about the future of its nuclear weapons policy, it should be guided by an agreed set of principles - starting with a commitment that decisions will be made by the group, not unilaterally by Washington.

Mrs. Clinton did not say that U.S. nuclear arms should never be removed. But she made several points that appeared to exclude the possibility of bringing an early end to the presence of the weapons, which currently are stored on air bases in five European countries.

In the event of war in Europe, they would be assigned to combat aircraft flown by European crews - manifesting the basic tenet that allies must share the risks that come with a collective defense treaty hinged on a U.S. nuclear protection guarantee.

“As we consider NATO’s approach to nuclear weapons,” she said, “our deliberations should be guided by five principles.” The first she mentioned was that as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.

“Second, as a nuclear alliance, sharing nuclear risks and responsibilities widely is fundamental.”

She added that it is the administration’s “broad aim” to continue to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in its overall arsenal, which features about 5,000 strategic, or long-range, nuclear weapons - including about 3,000 that are in storage. And she called on the allies to broaden deterrence by pursuing territorial missile defense - in contrast to regional or global missile defense.

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