Image: NATO Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer, left, and U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.
Michael Dalder  /  Reuters
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, left, and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chat before the start of the 41st Conference on Security Policy, in Munich, Germany, on Saturday.
updated 2/12/2005 10:15:53 AM ET 2005-02-12T15:15:53

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld struck a conciliatory tone at a European security conference Saturday, saying the American-European alliance could withstand its current differences and calling for unified efforts to defeat terrorism and weapons proliferation.

Referring to his earlier critical description of European nations that opposed the Iraq war as “old Europe,” he said, “That was old Rumsfeld,” drawing laughs from the assembled officials.

“Our collective security depends on our cooperation and mutual respect and understanding,” Rumsfeld told the conference, which included U.N. chief Kofi Annan, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and German Defense Minister Peter Struck.

Rumsfeld called for further cooperative efforts to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

“Our Atlantic alliance relationship has navigated through some choppy seas over the years. But we have always been able to resolve the toughest issues. That is because there is so much to unite us: common values, shared histories, and an abiding faith in democracy,” he said.

Rumsfeld singled out the governments of France and Germany, two of the biggest critics of the war in Iraq, for praise for their arrests of suspected Islamic extremists last month.

His description of France and Germany as part of “old Europe” caused bad blood in the run-up to the war.

Rumsfeld argues for central NATO role
Rumsfeld came out strongly against a suggestion to move away from NATO as the main vehicle for trans-Atlantic dialogue.

“NATO has a great deal of energy and vitality,” Rumsfeld said. “I believe they are undertaking the kinds of reforms to bring the institution into the 21st century. The place to discuss trans-Atlantic issues clearly is NATO.”

Struck, the German defense minister, had opened the conference by suggesting a move away from NATO and proposing more direct coordination between the European Union and the United States.

NATO “is no longer the primary venue where trans-Atlantic partners discuss and coordinate strategies,” Struck said. He proposed a commission be formed to study closer direct relations between the United States and European Union.

Rumsfeld’s trip to Germany follows a visit to France and Iraq. At a conference of NATO defense ministers in France, he advocated greater alliance participation in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He also said he believed that U.S. and European policy toward Iran’s nuclear efforts were in alignment.

Rumsfeld added his address to the weekend gathering of top security officials to his agenda at the last minute. Defense experts and policy-makers traditionally use the meeting for frank exchanges in an informal atmosphere.

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