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NATO Defense Ministers Discuss Stronger Middle East Ties

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer met with defense ministers of several Arab countries (file photo) (AFP) 10 February 2006 -- NATO defense ministers met in Taormina, Sicily today to discuss a wide range of topics, from common defense plans to relations with Russia and Middle Eastern nations.

NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General James Jones, said he doubted whether the alliance will have enough troops to declare its long-planned NATO Response Force operational by October.

The force is supposed to number 25,000 soldiers.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer met with the defense ministers of Israel and several Arab countries on the sidelines of today's meeting. He said NATO is interested in strengthening its ties in the Middle East.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the United States is watching the situation in the Palestinian territories closely following the recent electoral win by Hamas.

"There was an election and Hamas won. I suspect it was a bit of a surprise for them," Rumsfeld said. "My impression is that they have not yet made announcements, definitive announcement, on how they plan to govern. And I guess running for elections is one thing and governing is quite another. And I'm inclined to simply wait and see what they decide to do by way of governing. I think it will be interesting."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also said he expected Hamas will have to change some of its views once it takes on the responsibility of governing.

(compiled from agency reports)