NATO chief criticizes terror 'gap'

Posted in NATO | 12-Nov-04 | Author: Warren Hoge| Source: International Herald Tribune

Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer speaks during a Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters Thursday, Nov. 11, 2004.
UNITED NATIONS, New York The head of NATO said Thursday that there was a critical "perception gap" between Europe and the United States on the subject of global terror and that Europeans needed to move closer to the American view of the seriousness of the threat.

"Your country focused very much on the fight against terror while in Europe we focused to a lesser extent on the consequences for the world," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO's secretary general, said in an interview. "We looked at it from different angles and that, for me, is one of the reasons you saw such frictions in the trans-Atlantic relationship."

As a result, he said, Europe was lagging behind the United States in merging external and internal security to combat terrorism and Europe had to catch up.

"If the gap is to be bridged, it has to be done from the European side and not from the United States," he said, adding that the conflict in Iraq, the issue that helped divide the alliance, now provides an opportunity for uniting it.

"Where allies very much agree, and must agree, is the fact that whatever ways they have looked at the war in Iraq and the run-up to it and the split we saw, we cannot afford to see Iraq go up in flames," he said. "It is everyone's obligation that we get Iraq right."

De Hoop Scheffer is a former Dutch foreign minister who backed the Bush Administration's war in Iraq without alienating other European leaders and became NATO's head on Jan. 1. He said that his meeting with President George W. Bush in Washington Wednesday should be taken as a sign that trans-Atlantic frictions had eased.

"It's not as if I came here with doubt and my meeting with the president washed it all away," he said. "The fact that the secretary general of NATO is the first foreign visitor that President Bush has met since the election is a clear sign of the full commitment of this administration and of this president to the trans-Atlantic alliance," he said.

The Iraqi government has asked NATO to train its security forces and de Hoop Scheffer said that 10 of the 19 member states were contributing to that training. It is taking place both within Iraq and outside the country, which has been the preference of France, Germany and Spain, in Jordan and at European military schools. He said he hoped to have the program fully operational by the end of the year.

The experience of Iraq, he said, had taught him two lessons as a European and as a proponent of the Atlantic alliance.

"The first is that if Europe sees its integration process as one directed against the United States, it will not work because the result will be a split in Europe, and that is an ambition that no European should have.

"The second is that if you want to have a trans-Atlantic dialogue between grown-ups, I know that any president and any American administration is willing to listen to the European voice as long as it is one European voice. If it is five different voices, they will not take the trouble to listen and they will wonder what is Europe," he said.

NATO has 9,000 troops working on reconstruction in Afghanistan, but de Hoop Scheffer said his greatest concern there - and one he planned to raise in a meeting Thursday with the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan - was the explosive growth of the heroin trade and its threat to both the country's political future and to NATO's work.

"My point is that if the international community doesn't take this problem head on, then what are we doing there ?" he said.