FREDERIC FLORIN  /  AFP - Getty Images
From left, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Danish Premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama walk to a NATO working dinner in Baden-Baden, Germany, on Friday.
updated 4/3/2009 6:59:31 PM ET 2009-04-03T22:59:31

On the eve of the NATO summit, President Barack Obama didn't get what he wanted most from U.S. allies: significant new commitments of combat troops for Afghanistan.

Faced with stiff public opposition to war, European leaders on Friday offered only limited aid for civilians and some troops to help train Afghan police and soldiers.

Afghanistan was the theme to which Obama returned over and over throughout the day. "This is a joint problem, and it requires a joint effort," he said.

The summit's co-hosts, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, both were quick to offer support for Obama's new Afghan strategy of sending American reinforcements and bolstering Afghan forces. But they went no further.

"We totally endorse and support America's new strategy in Afghanistan," Sarkozy said a joint news conference with Obama after they met.

After her own talks with the president later in the afternoon, Merkel said: "We have a great responsibility here. We want to carry our share of the responsibility militarily — in the area of civil reconstruction and in police training."

Afghanistan was a key issue at a working dinner of all NATO leaders. "This is our No. 1 operational priority," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

As the leaders talked, protesters clashed for a second day with French police, injuring two officers.

Falling short
Backing from Sarkozy and Merkel is vital for Obama, as he seeks to convince NATO that a greater effort by all is the only way to defeat the escalating Taliban insurgency. U.S. diplomats said the administration was aware of the domestic pressures on their allies and would not press the issue.

Video: Obama, Merkel news conference What the Europeans had to offer concretely fell short of Obama's expectations, in part because many of their citizens believe that what is needed is a political solution and civilian aid to rebuild Afghanistan — not more combat troops.

Obama plans to add 21,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines to the 38,000 Americans already fighting militants. His strategy also calls for increased focus on boosting the capabilities of Afghanistan's police and army and improving the effectiveness of the government in Kabul.

The president was to brief his fellow leaders about the new strategy at a formal dinner Friday in the German spa resort of Baden-Baden.

NATO officials said they expected the Europeans to pledge four more infantry battalions to provide security in the run-up to Afghanistan's general elections in August.

NATO has a force of about 58,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, of which about 26,000 are Americans. The other 12,000 U.S. troops operate under a separate command.

British officials traveling to the summit with Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters he would offer to send more troops to Afghanistan — but the offer depended upon other NATO members sending additional forces, Britain's Press Association said. Officials said the number would likely be in the "mid- to high hundreds." Britain now has 8,000 soldiers in Afghanistan.

Spain, too, said it would increase the force it has in Afghanistan — currently numbering about 770 soldiers — with a small contingent to help train Afghan army officers.

Belgium said it would add some 65 soldiers to the 500 it has in Afghanistan and send two more F-16 jet fighters. It also plans to double its financial aid to an annual euro12 million ($14.5 million).

Relations with Moscow
In addition to Afghanistan, the summit will look at repairing the alliance's relations with Russia, which were frozen after last year's Russo-Georgian war.

Russia has become increasingly important as an alternate supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan since insurgents stepped up attacks on the main logistics route through Pakistan. Moscow has offered NATO the use of its railways and roads to move supplies from Europe to Central Asia.

NATO also wants Russia to provide the Afghan government with airlift support as well as equipment and spare parts for its Soviet-era weaponry.

There was agreement among NATO leaders "that Russia is a great European power, a partner with which NATO must cooperate and wants to cooperate," Appathurai, the alliance spokesman, said.

He said that the NATO-Russia Council — a joint body whose work was suspended after the war in Georgia — would hold its first meeting in coming weeks and that a meeting between NATO's and Russia's foreign ministers was expected in May.

In internal matters, the alliance planned discussions on a major leadership change, with Dutch diplomat Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's term as NATO secretary-general running out Aug. 1.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has emerged as the top candidate despite opposition from Turkey. Fogh Rasmussen infuriated many Muslims by speaking out in favor of freedom of speech during an uproar over Danish newspapers' publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006.

Town hall
Earlier Friday, Obama talked up his plans to eliminate nuclear weapons, close the Guantanamo Bay prison and tackle global warming. He pledged on to repair damaged relations with Europe, saying the world came together following the 2001 terrorist attacks but then "we got sidetracked by Iraq."

"We must be honest with ourselves," Obama told a town-hall style gathering of French and German residents in Strasbourg. "In recent years, we've allowed our alliance to drift."

Obama opened his Strasbourg appearance with a 25-minute prepared speech in which he set a dramatic, long-term goal of "a world without nuclear weapons." He said he would outline details of his nonproliferation proposal in a speech in Prague on Sunday, near the end of a European trip that is spanning five countries in eight days. 

"Even with the Cold War now over, the spread of nuclear weapons or the theft of nuclear material could lead to the extermination of any city on the planet," Obama said.

He held the campaign-like event in the midst of his first European trip as president as he sought to strengthen the United States' standing in the world while working with foreign counterparts to right the troubled global economy.

Video: Allies talk

Obama said the United States shares blame for the crisis, but that "every nation bears responsibility for what lies ahead — especially now."

Back home, his administration was trying to weather the fallout of another dismal monthly jobs report that was announced as Obama spoke in France. The jobless rate jumped to 8.5 percent, the highest since late 1983, as a wide range of employers eliminated a net total of 663,000 jobs in March.

Nuclear threat, Guantanamo
Earlier in France, the president said he wants to look back at his tenure and know his work drastically lessened the threat of terrorism, particularly nuclear terrorism.

"We can't reduce the threat of a nuclear weapon going off unless those that possess the most nuclear weapons — the United States and Russia — take serious steps to reduce our stockpiles," Obama said. "So we want to pursue that vigorously in the years ahead."

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this week pledged a new effort to reduce both nations' nuclear arsenals.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Obama outlines new NATO mission

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