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