President Bush thanked NATO Secretary-General George Robertson for an "unprecedented display of friendship" Wednesday as the 19-nation alliance dispatched radar surveillance aircraft to patrol the eastern United States, replacing U.S. planes that are headed for the Afghanistan war zone.
For Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Robertson's visit marked a welcome change from the delicate task of maintaining a diverse coalition that includes nations where government support is tenuous and in some cases buffeted by sometimes violent opposition on the streets.
In underscoring NATO's support for the U.S. effort, Robertson said, "It's a defining moment for humanity now, in facing up to these new and unconventional challenges, and we must be prepared to think unconventionally if we're going to deal with them."
"We stand shoulder to shoulder in a new kind of struggle, and a struggle that we have to win," he said.
In addition to sending the airborne warning and control system (AWACS) radar planes to the United States, NATO dispatched warships to the eastern Mediterranean to replace U.S. ships that are being sent closer to Afghanistan.
The measures are seen as largely symbolic. The AWACS, a four-engine radar platform built on the chassis of a Boeing 707 airliner, is manufactured in the United States. Most are operated by the U.S. Air Force. In recent years, some of the planes have been sold to NATO allies. The ones scheduled to start patrolling U.S. airspace Friday are operated by German crews.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher also said the administration is worried about the anti-American demonstrations roiling the streets in Pakistan, Indonesia and other mostly Muslim countries where governments have offered at least rhetorical support for the U.S. campaign.
He noted that the administration has launched a public relations offensive across the Islamic world.
"The Voice of America has expanded its broadcasting in Afghan languages," Boucher said. "Our embassies around the world are very active. Our embassy in Pakistan is making more and more material available to the . . . press. Our ambassadors around the world, some 37 of them, have written op-ed pieces. We've expanded use of Web sites."
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said John D. Negroponte, Washington's ambassador to the United Nations, directed a sternly worded letter to his Iraqi counterpart warning Iraq against launching any military operations or attempting to assist anti-American forces in Afghanistan.
"It was made clear that it's important for Iraq not to see the current circumstance as an opportunity to act against their own population or to act against any neighboring states," Fleischer said.
The warning followed a letter Negroponte sent to the U.N. Security Council earlier this week serving notice that the U.S. war on terrorism may extend beyond Afghanistan and could continue even if accused terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is captured or killed. The implication of the letter was that the United States reserved the right to attack Iraq once the battle in Afghanistan is complete.
Fleischer said there was nothing new in Negroponte's letter because Bush had already declared that the United States "will take whatever actions are required to defend our nation."
Powell, answering questions at a joint news conference with Robertson, said that while the war on terrorism is not limited to Afghanistan, there were no immediate plans for military action against Iraq or any other country.