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Algeria, Israel, Morocco to join NATO maritime operations

NATO has accepted a proposal that Algeria, Israel and Morocco take part in an alliance maritime operation, a senior official said Friday in Rabat. "NATO has given its agreement in principle that the three countries should take part" in an operation to monitor merchant shipping in the area of the Strait of Gibraltar, NATO deputy general secretary Alessandro Minuto Rizzo told reporters.

NATO launched the operation, called Active Endeavor, after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its seven partner countries on the Mediterranean rim opened talks Friday in Rabat aimed at reinforcing the political and military cooperation initiated 11 years ago.

Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania and Tunisia are the other states concerned. It is the first time that NATO has held a high-level meeting in an Arab country.

The participants have agreed to set up a "partnership cell" to make easier cooperation between the alliance and the countries of the south, Rizzo said.

Rizzo chaired the talks as NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was unable to attend the meeting due to illness.

"The Mediterranean dialogue is based on three convictions: the independence on security matters of the countries in the region, the political will to address questions of security, and that dialogue is the chosen means," Minuto Rizzo said at the opening of the conference.

The so-called Mediterranean dialogue program was set up in 1995, but has never really taken off because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and some countries' concerns about dealing with a U.S.-dominated military alliance.

Two years ago NATO, keen to bolster relations with the Arab world, agreed to give it fresh impetus, and defense ministers convened in February in Sicily.

De Hoop Scheffer said then that NATO needed to improve its public image in the Middle East and North Africa.

Algeria, Israel and Morocco are particularly interested in joining the NATO-led anti-terror naval sweeps in the Mediterranean and around Gibraltar.

Alger,04 10 2006
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