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Iraq, Palestine cited as factors affecting stability in Mideast

Will NATO become involved with Iraq? I don’t know. I think we are coming closer to a time when a decision will be taken. It may well be that this decision is taken at the summit in Istanbul, one way or the other. But so far, this has not been not an agenda item for NATO. It is my personal view that NATO could play a role. It already does, not directly; we have 18 out of 26 NATO nations engaged there individually. I think it makes lot of sense to harmonize the NATO effort, but that is primarily a political issue of whether the nations want to be engaged there or not. Most nations say they need a specific UN mandate for a NATO engagement, and others say we want to be invited by a government that is legitimate and that is authorized to do that. For some countries it’s very important, because you are not going there as an occupation force but as a stabilization force. What are the most important items on the agenda at the upcoming Istanbul summit? In my view, the important items are progress in ongoing operations, the transatlantic relationship, the relationship with the European Union, military capabilities and terrorism. NATO is accepting new members now, but some people think Russia has difficulties with that. When I heard the Russian defense minister speak today, he was very reasonable. I don’t think there will be a problem. This is a result of our cooperation with Russia. We are absolutely transparent in everything we do. They have known what was happening for many months, they have been involved, always been updated. There is a lot of trust and understanding. Could NATO play some role in the Middle East, especially now that the situation seems more tense? It is a very serious problem. The answer depends on how matters develop in the Middle East – some people say the Near East, others the Greater Middle East. Don’t you like this term? No. Why? It is not precise. At the beginning of the last century, we had a major debate in Germany and beyond about what Central Europe was. It had a cultural dimension, a geographical dimension, a political and the economic dimension. You talk about the Greater Middle East; well, from my perspective there are major political differences between the countries there. There is a love of commonality, that is true, there is no question about that. But from a strategic perspective, I would accept it, because there is a close interrelationship between security aspects, stability aspects in one part of what people call the Greater Middle East and another. Before the Iraq war, a lot of nations said Iraq was crucial for the stability of that area, and that is true, and it is still true. It has a major impact on the situation in neighboring countries but there is also an absolutely clear link between violence in Palestine and Israel and the stability of the overall region.