( AP ) - NATO's secretary general sought to persuade alliance members that guarding pipelines and sea lanes with military forces was vital for securing the energy supplies of member nations.
The NATO chief, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, began a Friday meeting of 50 allied and partner nations in eastern and southern Europe by arguing that the alliance had to take up the task, a proposal that some nations, like France, have been reluctant to embrace.
"I'm firmly convinced that NATO has a role to play in this field," de Hoop Scheffer told the gathering. "The security of our energy supplies is really a question to interest for us all."
He suggested three areas where NATO could play a role:
--providing military or civil defense support for allies and other nations whose critical infrastructure is at high risk from terrorist attacks or natural disasters
--sending naval forces to help protect sea routes used by tankers
--holding training exercises with partner nations to improve defenses for energy installations
De Hoop Scheffer also appealed for allied nations -- and others participating in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan -- to provide more troops to the mission, more training teams to help the Afghan army and more humanitarian aid for families caught up in the fighting.
"You should be asking yourselves can we do more? And my answer to this rhetorical question is that I ask that you consider what additional contributions you can make to this vital operation," he said.
He stressed the need for greater efforts by international troops to avoid civilian casualties after several recent incidents where noncombatants were killed by airstrikes and shelling by NATO or U.S.-led troops.
"Every innocent civilian killed is one too many," he said. "We will permanently review our procedures."
However, he said the blame for most noncombatant fatalities lay with NATO's Taliban foes. "NATO and our opponents are in totally different moral categories."
NATO allies have mixed views on the alliance's role in protecting energy resources. Some have pushed for NATO to consider a military role helping protect pipelines, oil platforms and sea routes bringing oil and gas to Europe and North America.
Poland, which is heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas imports, has suggested a pact to support allies whose supplies are threatened. France -- traditionally wary of extending the trans-Atlantic alliance's role -- and others have been reluctant to have NATO take on new energy security tasks.
De Hoop Scheffer said NATO should work with other international organizations to "add value" to efforts by national authorities and other international organizations.
The two-day meeting began Thursday in this Macedonian lakeside city and drew officials from the 26 NATO members plus 23 nations in the alliance's "partnership for peace" cooperation program -- including Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, Balkan nations and neutral countries, such as Sweden and Ireland.
On the agenda are talks on the international deadlock over Kosovo, where Serbia and Russia oppose a Western-backed plan that would allow the ethnic-Albanian majority province to break away from centuries of Serb rule.
"We should prevent unnecessary delay in trying to find a solution for the status of Kosovo," de Hoop Scheffer said. He is scheduled to travel Friday from Ohrid to Kosovo.