U.S. now regards terror threat to Olympics as military challenge

Thursday, April 1, 2004

The United States now sees securing the Olympic Games in Greece as a military challenge that will require NATO participation.

U.S. officials said the Bush administration has been working with NATO allies in Europe to find military assets required to bolster security at the games in Athens in August. They said Greece would require such assets as airborne early-warning and alert systems and naval vessels to guard that nation's air and sea space.

At the same time, the United States has expressed concern over what officials termed the EU failure to stop Islamic insurgency groups on the continent, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said that with the exception of Britain the EU has largely refused to freeze assets of Hamas and Hizbullah.

"The EU as a whole has been reluctant to take steps to block the assets of charities linked to Hamas, Hizbullah even though these groups repeatedly engage in deadly terrorist attacks and the charitable activities help draw recruits," State Department counter-terrorism coordinator Cofer Black told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. "Some European states have demonstrated a troubling inability to prosecute successfully or hold many of the terrorist brought before their courts."

The NATO effort has also been hampered by tensions between Greece and Turkey, officials said. Although Turkey is a NATO ally, officials said, Athens has been concerned that the participation of Turkish fighter-jets or naval fast attack craft could bolster Ankara's claims to territorial water and air space claimed by Greece.

"There's a lot of security measures that need to be taken to help provide security for that large an event, and I know the Greek government is working very hard on that," a senior U.S. administration official told a briefing on Tuesday. "But it is partly, in some respects, a military challenge, partly intelligence, partly police. They overlap a lot of areas. But there is a military role in this."

NATO has agreed to provide Greece with AEW aircraft, officials said. But they said the alliance must overcome obstacles in coordinating with the European Union's new security policy, which would require NATO to obtain EU permission for military assets in NATO member states.

Officials said EU-NATO cooperation has also been hampered by the European refusal to deal with Turkey as an equal partner. Brussels, which continues to deny EU membership to Turkey, has asked Ankara to contribute significantly to the European military force.

The United States has helped draft a roadmap for NATO-EU cooperation, officials said. They said these guidelines would be employed in the third quarter of 2004 for the Olympic Games as well as for the handover of the NATO-led operation in Bosnia to the EU.

"This set of arrangements got hung up for a couple of years, over a variety of concerns, particularly participation concerns involving Turkey and other non-NATO members in EU-led operations," the official said.

On Wednesday, Greek police staged a dress rehearsal of the Olympic Torch ceremony in downtown Athens to determine security requirements. Traffic was banned in the exercise area and visitors were checked.

The United States has played the leading role in a seven-member advisory council on security for the Olympic Games. The panel has not yet determined that Greece will become an insurgency target during the games.

"There are no serious indications that the Olympic Games or Greece may be attacked by terrorists," Peter Ryan, a security adviser to the Olympics, said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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