OLD GRUDGES: The biggest obstacle in NATO-EU relations, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says, is finding accord over Malta and Cyprus.
RIGA - During his trip to the Latvian capital last week, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was not afraid to point out serious obstacles in current NATO-EU relations, and said that the two organizations held different views on enlargement. Speaking at the Forum of Young Leaders on July 14, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said there were various political obstacles in the two organizations' working relationship, namely disputes over Malta and Cyprus.
Since the two Mediterranean countries joined the bloc in 2004, the EU and NATO haven't been able to exchange military secrets at joint meetings because Malta and Cyprus are not members of the Partnership for Peace program.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he recently discussed the situation with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
"We must work on relations together. There are important issues we still have to discuss," he said, addressing the participants of the youth forum, which was organized by the Latvian Trans-Atlantic Organization.
Speaking about NATO enlargement, the secretary general mentioned the EU, reminding that there were several countries hoping to join both organizations. He said it was difficult to deal with EU enlargement after the failure of the EU Constitutional Treaty.
"If the EU is tired, NATO isn't. I can assure the Balkan countries of this," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said, underlining the alliance's importance in protecting common democratic values.
"Everything that NATO does helps to ensure stability and protect values," he said.
It is wrong to believe that everything had already been achieved and common values no longer needed protection, the general secretary added. "We don't live in a luxury world... I would like you to see NATO as an organization that protects security."
The secretary general said that the upcoming NATO Summit in Riga, scheduled for this November, would consolidate and reinforce the evolution of the alliance. "In this very city, the leaders of NATO nations will further shape the alliance in view of 21st century challenges," said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
During the summit, leaders will discuss NATO's role in Kosovo and Afghanistan, as well as furthering the alliance's efforts to deal with the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he did not, however, expect the Riga summit to issue further invitations for membership. "But we will certainly confirm our open door policy and encourage aspirants to work toward achieving the necessary standards," he said.
On a cordial note, he apologized for any inconvenience the international summit may bring Riga.
"The summit might cause inconveniences in Riga's public life as 26 heads of state will be meeting in the capital, but this is very important," the secretary general said, adding that he was convinced Latvia would do an excellent job hosting the event.
"Our top priority is Afghanistan," he added. "[The Taliban regime] produced terror both at home and abroad. Therefore, we must continue to help the Afghan people build a peaceful state based on democratic values."
Speaking about the situation in the Balkan region, he said that NATO would remain committed to Kosovo until the process of stabilization was complete.
Not surprisingly, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also mentioned Russia. "Of course, we sometimes disagree with our Russian friends. However, frank dialogue is part of a healthy relationship, and we should not shy away from discussing difficult issues as well," he stated.
The NATO secretary general's purpose in visiting Latvia was to examine preparations for the alliance's summit in Riga Nov. 28-29.