LISBON - NATO will play an integral role in enforcing a Middle East peace deal, but will not play a direct role in reaching that agreement, the alliance's secretary general told Haaretz this weekend.
"If a Middle East peace agreement is reached, an international military force will be needed to monitor and implement it," Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
At a press briefing in the Portuguese capital, the secretary general said that unlike its member states, NATO as an organization is not involved in the peace process, but expressed support for the efforts of the United States and the other members of the so-called Quartet of Mideast peace negotiators to reach a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rasmussen will visit Israel in February of the coming year.
At center stage throughout the weekend summit was Afghanistan, and NATO member states agreed to continue the military campaign in the country until 2014 at least. Also on the agenda were NATO's increasingly friendly relations with Russia, the need to bolster Europe's defenses against surface-to-surface missiles and streamlining the alliance's military and administrative networks.
Meeting in the Portuguese capital yesterday and the day before, the heads of government of NATO's 28 members states signed on to a new strategic doctrine for the coming decade. The document's central tenets are a reaffirmation of collective defense, deterrence and resource allocation, crisis management, and advancing security and stability - even beyond the North Atlantic theater of North America and Europe.
The doctrine was formulated based on the recommendations of a committee of experts assembled by former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Among other issues, the panel's report offered recommendations relating to the Israeli-Arab conflict, but prior to the document's authorization on Friday, representatives of member states decided not to touch on the issue.
When asked why the document contained no explicit reference to Iran, a country highlighted by Albright's panel as a multi-pronged threat and the primary reason to invest in the deployment of surface-to-surface missiles in Europe, Rasmussen reaffirmed NATO's official stance - which cites the over 30 countries that own or seek to own advanced weapons that could cause harm to the Euro-Atlantic region.
This ambiguous phrasing was adopted following pressure from Turkey, a country widely seen as forging ever-closer ties to Iran. Ankara also expressed its opposition to providing information gathered by the European missile-defense system - planned to be based partially on its soil - to "non-NATO countries," wording that could be perceived as code for Israel.
A high-ranking official in a Western government said that at the meeting of the heads of state, French President Nicolas Sarkozy raged against the "verbal contortions" surrounding the missile-defense system. "We all know we're talking about Iran," Sarkozy reportedly said.
Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (representing the country in the absence of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ) did not respond to Sarkozy's remarks, but instead expressed opposition to what he called NATO's preferential treatment of Cyprus in circumventing Turkey's veto of the island country's participation in NATO negotiations with the European Union.
One result of the new NATO doctrine will likely be closer relations with non-member states. This weekend, NATO sources said high-level officials at the organization's Brussels headquarters are cognizant of Israel's disappointment with its apparently downgraded ties with NATO over the past few years, and are laying groundwork for strengthening those ties.
The North Atlantic Council - NATO's most senior governing body - also announced it would launch bilateral relations (in contrast to collective ties ) with Israel and the six Arab states that comprise the Mediterranean Dialogue. Egypt and several other of the Arab states have tried to prevent NATO from forging closer ties with Israel.
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