NATO chief: Vital for Egypt to remain moderate force in region

NATO chief: Vital for Egypt to remain moderate force in region

It is vital that Egypt remains a moderate force in the Middle East, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday, as anti-government protests continued in Cairo, dpa reported.

"For almost 30 years Egypt has played a key moderating role in the region," said the head of the alliance of 28 North American and European member states.

"It is important for all of us that it remains a force for peace and stability.

"I don't have illusions about NATO 's role about providing security in the region," he told a conference on security in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv. "NATO cannot solve all the problems and it never intended to do so."

Stability and prosperity could only come from within the region, he said, but added that pending a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement, this seemed "almost Utopia."

While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was no longer perceived as the only problem in the region, it was still "a major impediment."

Echoing an earlier statement by the quartet of Middle East peace sponsors - the United States, Russia, United Nations and Europe - he called the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was vital for regional peace and security.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have largely been frozen since Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu took office in March 2009. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas conditioned entering into talks with the nationalist premier on a full freeze of Israeli construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Short-lived direct talks were launched last autumn, only to break down when a partial, 10-month settlement freeze imposed by Netanyahu expired in September. Since then, efforts to revive them have failed.

Rasmussen called for a two-state solution to the conflict.

"We do not have all the time in the world. There is a new dynamic in the region. We must seize the opportunity to build on it," he urged.

His keynote address wrapped up the four-day conference.

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