NATO Parliamentary Assembly


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The situation in the Middle East and North Africa is extraordinarily fluid, but widespread assertion of civil society’s right to freedom and dignity throughout the region should be cause for cautious optimism. This was the central message emerging from deliberations at a seminar engaging parliamentarians, political leaders and experts from NATO Member, Associate and Mediterranean Associate countries who gathered in La Maddalena, Italy on 4-5 July 2011.

The Italian Parliament’s delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, headed by Senator Sergio de Gregorio, hosted and organised the seminar for the Assembly’s Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group (GSM), chaired by Vahit Erdem from Turkey.   Members of the Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Defence and Security Cooperation, chaired by the Rt. Hon. Sir John Stanley of the United Kingdom, also took part.

Participants to the seminar reviewed events on both a national and regional basis. Among those addressing the more than 50 members of parliament attending the event were senior leaders from Italy, Egypt and Iraq, as well as distinguished experts on regional dynamics.   The participants were also briefed on NATO’s ongoing Libya operation by a senior NATO Commander.   On the initiative of the Seminar host nation, the event also featured an appearance by an Iranian official. 

Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammed Moustafa Kamal outlined his country’s continued progress towards a more open and democratic system.  Told that a new constitution would likely be rooted in democratic values and Sharia law, some seminar participants suggested that these may not be complementary constitutional principles.   Kamal stressed that Egypt would abide by its international commitments and treaties, including the peace agreement with Israel.  A peaceful settlement to this conflict was critical, he underlined; the continued plight of the Palestinian people would inevitably impact a democratically-produced future Egyptian diplomacy.

Ali Ahani, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, outlined his country’s views on recent developments in the region, stating that “actors from outside the region” had supported immoral regimes and that such pressure was now causing unrest elsewhere.  Iran, he said, was a model democracy which played a positive regional role and which sought a nuclear-free world, despite what he asserted were unfairly biased claims against it.   Ahani declared that Iran did not have and would not develop any missile of greater range than 2,000 km.

The unprecedented Iranian presentation was strongly challenged by members of the Assembly, who raised a number of concerns about Iranian behaviour and rhetoric, including threats to the security of Israel; nuclear smuggling and missile programs; unfulfilled IAEA obligations; brutal repression of political dissent; support for extremist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the rights of women.  The Israeli delegation departed the venue in protest for the duration of the presentation.   

Developments in Iraq were the subject of presentations by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and Nechirvan Idris Barzani, former Prime Minister of the Kurdistan region.   Mr. Allawi noted that economic opportunities and overall security remain elusive and called for the international community to continue to support Iraq, and in particular Iraq ’s Christians, victims of reprehensible sectarian attacks.

While recalling the tragedies that have afflicted Iraq ’s Kurdish community, Mr. Barzani told the seminar that the region is recovering and has made great progress in building a democratic order while achieving peace and security for its people. Mr. Barzani stressed that Kurds in Iraq were not seeking a separate state and would continue to willingly work within a federal Iraq.

On the second day of the Seminar, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, Commander, Allied Joint Force Command, Naples; Commander, US Naval Forces Europe and Commander US Naval Forces, Africa provided a tour d’horizon of his wide ranging responsibilities, including Operation Unified Protector in Libya. Admiral Locklear denied that NATO forces were targeting individuals and stressed that the degradation of the Libyan government’s capacity to threaten its people would help create the conditions for a settlement. He stressed the importance of continued support from NATO governments to the campaign.

Parliamentarians also discussed the social, economic, political and demographic origins of the crisis with Dr Tarik Yousef from the Dubai School of Government and Dr Maha Azzam of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Italian Senator Antonello Cabras presented a first draft of the annual GSM report, and two Italian deputy Ministers, Giuseppe Cossiga and Stefania Craxi discussed Italy ’s defence and diplomatic posture in the region, respectively.

A detailed Seminar report will be available shortly.