Well, good morning, everyone. And for those who are joining us for the first time, welcome to Chicago.
I was just hearing from a few folks who are not NATO members that they had fun on the town last night. Hopefully no stories in the press.
You know, we come together as… as 50 nations, NATO Allies and partners that make up the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. I want to welcome the presence of President Karzai as well as officials from central Asia and Russia, nations that have an important perspective and that continue to provide critical transit for ISAF supplies.
Now, the presence of so many leaders and nations illustrates once again that this is a truly international mission. And that's because the region and the world have a profound interest in an Afghanistan that is stable, that is secure, and that is not a source of attacks on other nations.
And today, as always, our thoughts are with our brave forces who are serving in this vital mission.
Two years ago in Lisbon, our nations agreed on a framework for transition in Afghanistan that would allow us to responsibly wind down the war. We agreed that this transition to Afghan lead for security would begin in 2011, and that it would conclude in 2014.
At the same time, we said that we would seek a long-term partnership with Afghanistan and the Afghan people.
Over the past two years, we've made important progress. Our forces broke the Taliban's momentum. More Afghans are reclaiming their communities. Afghan security forces have grown stronger. And the transition that we agreed to in Lisbon is well underway.
This past week we saw more progress. We very much welcome President Karzai's announcement of the third group of areas to begin transition. This means that 75 percent of the Afghan people live in areas where Afghan forces will be moving into the lead.
Today we'll decide the next phase of the transition, the next milestone. We'll set a goal for Afghan forces to take the lead for combat operations across the country in 2013, next year, so that ISAF can move to a supporting role. This will be another step toward Afghans taking full lead for their security, as agreed to, by 2014, when the ISAF combat mission will end.
Today is also an opportunity to ensure our hard-won progress is preserved. The strategic partnership agreement that President Karzai and I signed in Kabul ensures that, as Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone.
Today we can agree on NATO's long-term relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, including our support of Afghan security forces. So we have a lot of work to do.
Again, I want to thank all of my fellow leaders and our partners for being here. Our nations and the world have a vital interest in the success of this mission, and I am confident, because of the leadership represented here as well as the leadership of our outstanding and armed forces, that we can advance that goal today and responsibly bring this war to an end.
Mr. Secretary General.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General ): Thank you very much, Mr. President. And now I would kindly ask the media to leave the room so that we can start our meeting.