February 7, 2008 / 10:50 AM / 11 years ago

NATO chief rejects U.S. fears of two-tier alliance

VILNIUS (Reuters) - NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Thursday rejected concern expressed by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that only some countries in the alliance were ready to fight.

Gates told a U.S. congressional committee on Wednesday that he feared “a two-tiered alliance in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect people’s security and others who are not”.

“I do not see a two-tier alliance, there is one alliance,” de Hoop Scheffer told reporters as he arrived for talks in Vilnius, where Gates and 25 other NATO defense ministers were due to meet.

“There are 26 of us in Afghanistan. We are in Kosovo,” de Hoop Scheffer said of NATO’s two largest peace missions.

He acknowledged that, like Gates, he saw a need for more NATO forces to counter Taliban insurgency, but he repeated an earlier appeal to the U.S. defense chief to make such requests in closed-door contacts with other alliance officials.

“Usually we do not do that publicly,” he said.

The NATO-led ISAF force has about 43,000 troops in Afghanistan. The United States, Britain, Canada, Poland and other allies have failed to persuade countries such as Germany and France to send combat troops to the south, where fighting is fiercest.

Reporting by Patrick Lannin; writing by Mark John; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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