Sat, Nov 13, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Secretary-general of NATO warns of Atlantic divide

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , UN

The secretary-general of NATO said on Thursday that there was a critical "perception gap" between Europe and the United States on the subject of global terror and that Europeans must move closer to the American view of the seriousness of the threat.

The US "focused very much on the fight against terror while in Europe we focused to a lesser extent on the consequences for the world," said the secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, speaking 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 US 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," de Hoop Scheffer said, adding that the conflict in Iraq, the issue that helped divide the alliance, now provided 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," de Hoop Scheffer said. "It is everyone's obligation that we get Iraq right."

De Hoop Scheffer is a former Dutch foreign minister who supported the Bush administration on the war in Iraq without alienating other European leaders. He became NATO's secretary-general on Jan. 1. He said that a meeting he had with Bush in Washington on 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," de Hoop Scheffer said. "I have never doubted that commitment, but whatever way you look at it, 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."

NATO has been asked by the Iraqi government to train its security forces, and de Hoop Scheffer said that 10 of the alliance's 19 member states were contributing to that training, both within Iraq and in places outside Iraq, the preference of France, Germany and Spain -- like Jordan and European military schools. He said he hoped to have the program fully operational by the end of the year.

The experience of Iraq had taught him two lessons as a European and an Atlanticist, de Hoop Scheffer said.

"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," he said.

"The second is that if you want to have a trans-Atlantic dialogue between grownups, 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."

NATO has 9,000 troops and a broadening reconstruction campaign under way in Afghanistan, but de Hoop Scheffer said his greatest concern there now was the explosion in the heroin trade.

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