The German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder used the summit to end a diplomatic row with the United States over Iraq. President Bush had been deeply angered during Germany's election campaign over Mr Schroeder's outspoken opposition to US threats of military force against Iraq. After months of refusing to say if the US would be allowed to use its military bases in Germany and overfly rights in the event of an Iraq war, Schroeder told reporters: "We don't have any plans to put limits on the movements of our friends." But the German leader repeated his pledge not to send troops to participate in military strikes against Baghdad. "Military means must be used only as a last resort for fighting international terrorism," he said, adding: "There will not be any German military participation."
After meeting Czech veterans from the Gulf War and former members of the Czech military unit stationed in Kuwait, the US President George W. Bush left for Russia where he met the Russian President Vladimir Putin. US officials said Mr Bush would pledge to respect Russia's economic interests in any military action to disarm Iraq, and try to soften the blow of NATO's expansion. A senior US official said Mr Bush had chosen to visit Mr Putin right after the summit "to demonstrate that what happened today is a new chapter, and it is a new chapter that is favourable for Russia and favourable for its people".
The Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov welcomed NATO's planned strategic anti-terror reorientation, saying this made the Alliance's eastward expansion compatible with Moscow's security interests. "We consider that this transformation of NATO should be welcomed," Mr Ivanov said following a meeting with the 19 alliance foreign ministers. Mr Ivanov was reacting to NATO's historic decision on Thursday to invite seven former communist states to join the organisation and to set up a 20,000 member anti-terror rapid Response Force for worldwide operations. Three of the states joining NATO - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - were part of the former Soviet Union. The other four future members are Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
A minor incident occurred during a news conference concluding the two-day NATO summit. Two men stood up at the end of the conference, shouting in Russian "NATO is worse than the Gestapo". One of the men took his jacket off to show a Nazi armband and tomatoes were thrown towards the alliance secretary-general George Robertson, who was surrounded by three bodyguards. Security officials hauled the protesters out of the room, took their passports and led them away.
The Croatian President Stipe Mesic said on Friday that the US President George Bush had encouraged Croatia, Macedonia and Albania to carry out reforms necessary for NATO membership, after the three states were left out of the latest NATO expansion in Prague. Mr Mesic said on Thursday that Croatia was aware it was not yet ready for membership of the alliance because it had not reached all democratic and other required standards. He blamed the delay on Croatia's war of independence in the 1990s. Croatia is a member of the NATO Partnership for Peace programme, which is seen as a first step towards eventual full membership in the alliance. One of the most important and controversial issues for Croatia is cooperation with the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The summit meeting of NATO leaders ended on Friday in Prague after two
days of talks on the enlargement, transformation and modernisation of the
alliance. At the summit, leaders of the 53-year-old Western defence
organisation agreed to take in new members, create a new strike force,
acquire new equipment and build new partnerships extending to Central Asia
and the Caucasus.
On Thursday the alliance made a historic decision to invite seven former Eastern Bloc nations to join in a landmark expansion. NATO leaders also decided to create a rapid Response Force which is expected to be used in global anti-terror missions and operations against so-called rogue states, and agreed to back UN efforts to disarm Iraq. On Friday representatives of the 19 NATO states continued talks by meeting their counterparts from 27 East European and Central Asian nations that have partnership accords with the alliance.
Two Anti-NATO demonstrations took place on Friday afternoon. A crowd of
anarchists marched from Namesti Miru Square towards the Congress Centre
- the main venue of the summit - and back, and a meeting of right-wing
nationalists ended at around 4 pm on Old Town Square in the historic
centre of Prague. No violence was reported from the demonstrations or
those that took place on the previous days.
The NATO summit took place amid tight security measures. Around 12,000 policemen were stationed in the streets of Prague, equipped with water cannons and riot gear, and police helicopters were patrolling over the city. Also border police turned away more than 300 would-be protesters at the Czech border.
The Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoly Zlenko said on Friday that his government was cooperating with a probe into allegations that Kiev approved the sale of Kolchuga early warning radar systems to Iraq. However Mr Zlenko cautioned that Ukraine could not give out all data on Kolchuga sales. British and American experts have been investigating the accusation that Kiev authorised the radar sale to Baghdad. The Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma attended a NATO partnership meeting on Friday despite misgivings voiced by the alliance's Secretary General George Robertson. NATO had told Mr Kuchma he would not be welcome at the meeting and downgraded separate talks with Ukraine from head of state to foreign minister level, but could not prevent Mr Kuchma attending the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council meeting.
The leaders of NATO member countries have agreed to back UN efforts to disarm Iraq but the alliance, divided over the prospect of an eventual conflict, stopped well short of suggesting any collective action. "NATO allies stand united in their commitment to take effective action to assist and support the efforts of the UN to ensure full and immediate compliance by Iraq, without conditions or restrictions," an alliance communiqué issued at the summit said.
The Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has arrived at Prague's Ruzyne airport to take part in the meeting of NATO and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council on Friday. The alliance had made it clear that Mr Kuchma was not welcome at the Prague summit due to suspicions that Ukraine had sold a radar system to Iraq. Last week, the Czech government refused to grant an entry visa to the Belarussian President, Alexander Lukashenko, who had wished to attend the summit.