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Rice to hold Europe talks on Afghanistan, NATO expansion

US Secretary of State to visit 5 European countries

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will discuss strategy to win the war in Afghanistan and NATO expansion at transatlantic alliance talks in Brussels next week, her spokesman said Monday, according to AFP.

On a tour that will also take her to London, Rome, Helsinki and Copenhagen, Rice will visit Brussels for the annual North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers` meeting on December 2-3, spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"I`m sure we`re going to talk about Afghanistan," McCormack told reporters.

"We have been working on our own assessment, or review if you will of Afghanistan and the way forward," according to Rice`s spokesman.

"I`m sure the secretary is going to be sharing how we see the situation," as others present their own views, he said.

He referred reporters to the White House for details on when the assessment will be completed, but said: "I think they`re getting pretty close to wrapping things up."

He expected it to be completed "well before" President George W. Bush leaves office on January 20.

In September, Bush tasked Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, a deputy national security adviser, with leading a review of US strategy in Afghanistan, amid rising insurgent violence and tensions with Pakistan, a Pentagon official said.

McCormack also said the Bush administration still supports efforts for ex-Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO.

"I`m sure the issue will come up. Our policy is unchanged," McCormack said.

"I expect it to be a healthy discussion among the North Atlantic Council," he told reporters when asked if the Membership Action Plan (MAP) to pave the way for membership of these countries had lost support.

During an October 2 visit to Saint Petersburg, Russia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was too soon for NATO to provide such a plan to Georgia and Ukraine.

Merkel said the NATO ministerial meeting in December that many predicted would be the occasion for the alliance to extend the plan to Georgia and Ukraine would instead be only "an initial evaluation on the road to MAP."

With nine former Soviet bloc countries already NATO members, Russia is fiercely opposed to more Soviet-era Warsaw Pact neighbours like Georgia and the Ukraine even starting the process of joining the western military alliance.

However, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said during a visit to Spain last week that NATO will support efforts by former communist nations to join the military alliance despite Russia`s opposition.

During her tour from November 30 to December 5, Rice will meet in London with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband before traveling to Brussels and then Rome, where she will meet Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, McCormack said.

In Helsinki, she is due to take part in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ministerial meeting on December 4 as well as meet with with Finnish officials.

On her last stop in Copenhagen, she will meet Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen and Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller.

AFP

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