Rumsfeld invites 7 Mideast allies to sign up for counter-terror duty

Monday, February 9, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The United States wants its allies in the Middle East to participate in NATO efforts to intercept shipments of weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. officials said the Bush administration has approved a program for a range of states located in the Mediterranean to help intercept suspected WMD and ballistic missile shipments to such countries as Iran and Syria. They said these countries comprise the seven that participate in the Mediterranean Dialogue.

The countries are Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. The countries have been participating in a NATO dialogue effort since 1994.

"We can look at ways to strengthen and expand NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue so the alliance can better engage nations in North Africa and the Middle East," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a security conference in Munich on Saturday. "Strengthening the Mediterranean Dialogue, I believe, should be high on our agenda for the NATO Summit in Istanbul."

Rumsfeld cited two key areas of cooperation: the interdiction of WMD and what he termed counter-terrorism. Other areas cited by the secretary were peacekeeping missions, border security, opportunities for attendance at NATO schools, and participation in the Partnership for Peace exercises.

The Mediterranean Dialogue has failed to achieve multilateral cooperation amid Arab differences with Israel on numerous issues, particularly Israel's nuclear program and relations with the Palestinians. Instead, NATO has focused on separate efforts with each of the seven members of the dialogue. The last NATO consultation with the seven members took place in September 2003.

In 2003, scientists from Algeria, Jordan, Mauritania and Morocco were recruited for NATO's science program. The panel sought to obtain input from scientists from Arab League states "concerning the implications for civil science of the fight against terrorism," a NATO statement said. The activities -- which included the detection of WMD, decontamination, medical countermeasures and agro-terrorism -- were termed as unclassified.

Administration officials said the United States plans to press for the inclusion of the seven Middle East states in the Mediterranean Dialogue in NATO's PfP. They said Turkey has agreed to support the U.S. demand at the Istanbul summit in June.

At the same time, the United States has pressed the European Union to delay an economic and political cooperation agreement with Syria because of its WMD program. Several EU members have agreed with Washington that any pact with Syria must be preceded by guarantees that Damascus will eliminate its biological and chemical weapons programs.

For its part, Iran canceled its participation in the Munich conference.

The administration has also determined that several Middle East states began steps toward democracy that should be encouraged by NATO. The developments cited by the administration include the establishment of a new parliament in Morocco, the 2002 parliamentary elections in Bahrain, the decision by Oman to allow men and women to vote, the adoption of a constitution in Qatar, elections in Jordan in the summer of 2003 and direct elections for Kuwait's parliament.

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[On Monday, the Washington Post reported that the Bush administration plans to promote democracy in the Middle East via a model similar to the 1975 Helsinki accords with the former East Bloc. The reported initiative would commit Arab and South Asian regimes to adopt democratic reforms and be held accountable on human rights.]

"Our challenge is to think creatively about how we can harness the power of the alliance and to contribute to similar democratic progress across the Middle East," Rumsfeld said.

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