Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stresses to 'Post' NATO won't involve itself as an alliance in the Middle East.
By YAAKOV LAPPIN, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
Outgoing NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend of his hope to see a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "based on the two-state principle sooner rather than later."
At the same time, Scheffer stressed that NATO "will not involve itself as an alliance in the Middle East."
He was speaking at a summit held by the NATO-affiliated Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) Security Forum, held in the Kazakhstani capital of Astana, at the invitation of the Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
NATO has been linked to a possible West Bank peacekeeping role, though Scheffer has in the past conditioned such a presence on a comprehensive peace accord between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
"NATO does not have any intention to play a role [in the Middle East] because many other actors are involved," he said on Thursday.
"Under my watch, the relationship between NATO and the Middle East has been intensified," Scheffer added.
"I am committed to that region. NATO is committed to intensifying its relationship with the Arab and Islamic world and with Israel as well," he said.
It was Afghanistan which took up center stage in discussions here, with Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller, issuing a stark warning over the danger of Afghan-based jihadi terrorism spreading and destabilizing other countries.
"Our meeting here today presents us with a window of opportunity which we must utilize to help the Afghans to put their house in order. If we allow this house to burn down we know neighboring houses will catch fire," he said. "We cannot afford to fail."
In a frank rebuke, Moller added that "the European Union is not doing enough" to help stabilize Afghanistan.
Earlier this months, three Danish soldiers were killed in a bomb attack by Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan. Seven hundred Danish troops are deployed in the country as part of a multinational NATO presence. Moller appeared to respond positively to US President Barack Obama's call to take the war to the Taliban in Afghanistan, but conditioned an increase in military efforts on the provision of civilian and economic assistance to Afghanis as well.
"I'm suggesting we must get better at delivering assistance," he said. "Afghanistan is still marred by terrorism and security continues to evade the life of all too many," Moller added.
During a press conference held on Thursday, the NATO chief said cooperation with the Kazakhstani government was "excellent."
In February, Kazakhstan approved a NATO request to use the country as a transit zone for non-lethal supplies sent to troops based in Afghanistan.
The NATO parley in Kazakhstan represents the first event of its kind in former-Soviet territory.
The energy-rich central-Asian state is keen to define itself as a major actor in international security, and attempts to maintain a complex balancing act by pursuing good relations with NATO and Russia at the same time.
While it was part of the Soviet Union, eastern Kazakhstan was used by Moscow as a nuclear testing zone over the course of four decades.
More than 400 atomic bombs were detonated during this period and thousands of Kazakhstanis suffered from radiation-related health problems. A wave of birth defects resulted. Kazakhstan destroyed Soviet nuclear weapons left in its territory after the country became independent in 1991.
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