LISBON, Portugal — President Obama arrived here this morning for two days of meetings with NATO allies as they craft a new plan for the war in Afghanistan and seek a new mission statement that will keep them relevant in the 21st century.
After a lengthy trip to expand American trade opportunities in Asia last week, Obama turned around immediately for a trip to reassure friends in Europe that their shared security and economic concerns are also a top priority. The focus for the weekend is forming the NATO plan to begin turning security responsibility for Afghanistan over to local forces this year, a long-term process that Obama now acknowledges will probably last into 2014.
At the same time, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will meet with the allies to talk about cooperating on a missile defense shield for Europe. The idea was previously too distasteful for Russia to discuss in such an international forum, but warming relations between Obama and Medvedev helped to pave the way.
The visit to Lisbon casts a spotlight on Obama's foreign policy, just as Republicans in Congress have made it clear how hard the president will have to fight to implement any of his priorities -- starting with the nuclear arms treaty he crafted with Medvedev. Senate Republicans are now threatening to push off approval of the treaty until next year.