NATO cites Algeria as model partner

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

LONDON NATO has designated Algeria as its most promising partner in the Middle East region.

Officials said NATO plans to use Algeria as a model for cooperation between the Western alliance and the Mediterranean Dialogue starting in 2005. They said Algeria has agreed to begin training and other programs with NATO as part of a process to ensure interoperability and common language.

The first stage in the Algerian-NATO partnership, officials said, would be in the field of counter-insurgency, Middle East Newsline reported.

The officials said NATO could benefit from an intelligence exchange and other cooperation with Algeria in the battle against Al Qaida and related groups.

"Just see how they have defeated terrorism," NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said. "We have a lot to talk about."

Addressing an audience in Algiers on Nov. 25, De Hoop Scheffer said NATO was ready to expand its relations with Algeria. He cited plans to modernize the Algerian army and provide training and instruction.

"My presence in Algiers is an additional sign of the beginning of a new dynamic in relations between NATO and the countries of the Mediterranean," the NATO secretary-general said. "New policies are being developed, because we have understood that cooperation is the only means of moving forward."

On Tuesday, Algeria and France began a three-day naval exercise in the western Mediterranean. The exercise was conducted within the framework of NATO.

So far, officials said, Algeria has not relayed formal agreement to launch many of the programs offered by NATO. Officials said the 26-member alliance wanted Algeria to expand naval cooperation, engage in defense and military reform and conduct a wide-based intelligence exchange on Islamic insurgency groups.

In his address, De Hoop Scheffer acknowledged the opposition by Algeria and other prospective Middle East partners to NATO policies. They include the alliance's support for the U.S.-led military presence in Iraq.

"There is much at stake and common challenges tying us together for us to let our future cooperation become hostage to this conflict," De Hoop Scheffer said. "We must move forward."

Officials said De Hoop Scheffer would visit all seven members of the Mediterranean Dialogue, established in 1994. They include Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. Officials said many of the Arab states in the dialogue have shunned cooperation with NATO because it has meant including Israel.

In his address, De Hoop Scheffer asserted that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a priority for Middle East stability and security in the region. The NATO chief, referring to the death of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, said he was optimistic.

"And certain recent developments make me more optimistic about the future," De Hoop Scheffer said.

For his part, Algerian Foreign Minister Abdul Aziz Belkhadem said Algeria would cooperate with NATO. He cited plans for joint training, operations, peace-keeping and the relay of defense technologies to the North African state.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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