President Barack Obama won NATO summit agreement Friday to build a missile shield over Europe, an ambitious commitment to protect against Iranian attack while demonstrating the alliance's continuing relevance -- but at the risk of further aggravating Russia.
On another major issue, Obama and the allies are expected to announce plans on Saturday to begin handing off security responsibility in Afghanistan to local forces next year and to complete the transition by the end of 2014.
That end date is three years beyond the time that Obama has said he will start withdrawing U.S. troops, and the challenge is to avoid a rush to the exits as public opinion turns more sharply against the war and Afghan President Hamid Karzai pushes for greater Afghan control.
While celebrating the missile shield decision, Obama also made a renewed pitch for Senate ratification back in the U.S. of a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, asserting that Europeans believe rejection of the deal would hurt their security and damage relations with the Russians.
Two key unanswered questions about the missile shield -- will it work and can the Europeans afford it? -- were put aside for the present in the interest of celebrating the agreement as a boost for NATO solidarity.
Under the arrangement, a limited system of U.S. anti-missile interceptors and radars already planned for Europe -- to include interceptors in Romania and Poland and possibly a radar in Turkey -- would be linked to expanded European-owned missile defenses.
That would create a broad system that protects every NATO country against medium-range missile attack.