Robertson: NATO could send
troops to the Middle East

The suggestion came after US officials informed ministers of the 19-nation alliance on the latest peace talks held in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh between US President George Bush and Arab leaders.

 

“Some ministers indicated that if these talks were successful in Sharm al-Sheikh today and Aqaba tomorrow, and if there was a need for some stabilisation force in that region then NATO should not rule itself out”, Robertson told a press conference.

 

Bush will meet with Palestinian and Israeli prime ministers on Wednesday in the Jordanian Red Sea resort of Aqaba to push forward with a US-sponsored “road map” plan for peace.

 

A senior US official stressed that the idea was not a US initiative. However, the official said that Washington had long suggested that “if both parties agreed, it might be useful to have some sort of monitoring” of a peace settlement in the region.

 

NATO foreign ministers began a two-day meeting in Madrid Tuesday, focusing on the alliance’s role in fighting what they regard as terrorism.

 

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who attended the Sharm al-Sheikh summit, delegated Deputy Secretary for Political Affairs Marc Grossman to take part in the NATO meeting.

 

Tensions persist

 

The ministers at the summit would try to put their divisions over the Iraq war behind them.

 

“We had a clear message of unity around the table”, said a NATO official after foreign ministers, unsually, issued a pre-agreed statement.

 

Robertson scoffed at newspaper headlines in his opening speech, saying they were “still peppered with gloomy predictions about transatlantic drift”.

 

He said NATO’s recent decisions to lead the "peacekeeping" forces in Afganistan and to support Poland in its "stabilisation" force in Iraq proved that the alliance was living up to its pledge to undertake security missions anywhere in the world.

 

“These new tasks reinforce an enduring truth: NATO combines flexibility and effectiveness like no other organisation”, Robertson said.

 

NATO was plunged into a serious crisis three months ago when France, Germany and Belgium blocked moves to strengthen Turkey’s defences ahead of the US-led war on Iraq.

 

The three European states were described by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as members of “old Europe”.

 

Robertson told a Spanish newspaper, ABC, that some “tensions persist” among the nations of the alliance.

 

Another diplomat said: “There are things we have fixed, but there are still tensions over relations with the European Union”.

 

Some diplomats expressed their disappointment over the European Union’s plan to deploy French-led troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo without seeking support from NATO.

 

EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana said he was optimistic ambassadors of the EU’s 15 member states would take a provisional decision to back the mission in Congo.

 

Several diplomats said France was determined to show that the European Union could stand on its feet, independent of the US-dominated alliance.