It is a pleasure to be here today. I am happy to welcome to Rome Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer, the North Atlantic Council in permanent session and representatives from Mediterranean and Gulf neighbors. I would like to thank General Rafenne and the NATO Defense College for providing an important and timely opportunity to reflect on NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue, as we look ahead to the Istanbul Summit.
My remarks today will focus on four key points of this Dialogue: strengthening its political dimension; enhancing concrete cooperation; seeking full complementarity with the Barcelona Process; and broadening the horizon toward the Greater Middle East.
First : strengthening the political dimension. Italy has long been committed to the Mediterranean Dialogue. We strongly stressed this commitment at the November 2002 Prague Summit. I reconfirmed it in the proposal that I delivered to the North Atlantic Council on March 3.
I was glad that the NATO ministerial meeting of April 2 highlighted the importance of this subject and produced a forward-looking outline of a shared allied approach. We decided to undertake high-level consultations with Mediterranean Dialogue partners and other countries in the region in order to prepare for the Istanbul Summit. I am sure that today's discussion will help Ambassador Minuto Rizzo in fine-tuning the presentation he will make in those Capitals. He already has clear instructions following the April 2 meeting. I am glad they reflect three guidelines strongly advocated by Italy:
First, the aim of a qualitative leap involving "joint ownership" of the initiative;
Second, readiness to build together a framework for cooperative security to address common threats such as terrorism, proliferation, organized crime, trafficking in drugs and human beings;
Third, recognition of the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, following the guidelines of the "Road Map" supported by the Quartet.
The purpose of consultations should be to produce a clear common ground on these three points. On that basis, we would welcome a ministerial meeting that would reflect consensus on the path the process must take and on the political will to contribute to it.
Certainly, we should be of one mind on the fight against terrorism and in strong opposition to all forms of extremism.
Equally importantly, we should share the vision of two states (Israel and Palestine) ultimately living beside one another in peace and security.
We know how complex it is to translate such statements into reality. But NATO is accustomed to persevering over the long term. We are aware that the Middle East peace process has the same meaning for the Mediterranean that the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall had for the Cold War.
On our part, we offer full support to the commitment of governments in the region to oppose religious fundamentalism. In fact, the main targets of fundamentalism are the moderate Arab-Islamic governments, those enlightened and secularized governments that have learned to distinguish between religious observance and the blind alley of fanaticism.
In the Balkans and Afghanistan, NATO has committed itself to make peace and stability possible for Islamic peoples threatened by ethnic cleansing and terrorism. In this way, the Alliance has established its credibility as a partner.
Thus we expect positive signals from the Arab League foreign ministers meeting being held today and tomorrow in Cairo to prepare for the May 22 Tunis Summit.
We will be delighted if an Istanbul meeting turns out to be possible. In any case, we will continue working hard to bring about our goal of a qualitative leap in the NATO-Mediterranean relationship.
Our second key point is enhancing concrete cooperation. We can and must do more in the way of concrete cooperation. We have a common interest in intensifying technical assistance in security matters. To address common challenges more effectively, we must also strengthen contacts in the areas of police, intelligence, and armed forces.
We should establish a collaborative process that combines "capacity building" and "confidence building." The aim should be to increase mutual trust while also achieving greater interoperability.
Maritime cooperation is a sector that might present immediate possibilities, given the nature of the Mediterranean area. The first instance of more concrete maritime cooperation could be fuller involvement of Mediterranean partners in the "Active Endeavor" operation.
Regarding Mediterranean naval contacts, I should point to the Naval Symposium held every two years in Venice with the participation of all the coastal countries. Together with the Italian Ministry of Defense, we are considering strengthening this already important forum. Italy would do this, on a national basis, in order to give Mediterranean countries more opportunities to exchange views and promote regional cooperation in security matters.
Our third key point is seeking full complementarity with the Barcelona Process.
The cooperative security framework that we build together should take advantage of every possibility for synergies with other multilateral forums, starting with the Euro-Mediterranean Barcelona Process. During the semester of our EU Presidency, Italy worked intensely to foster this complementarity. We are glad that those European partners who regarded this prospect with skepticism a few months ago now share our vision.
We have worked hard to build the strategic partnership between EU and NATO. This effort is bearing fruit in the Balkans. The next step is the Mediterranean. Such cooperation calls for the consensus and active involvement of Mediterranean partners.
A new broad concept of security is where synergies can take place, since it goes beyond the purely military dimension to take account of political, economic, social, and cultural issues. Within this larger framework, every organization should provide its own specific added value while keeping in view the common goal of working together to establish stability.
In fact, for some time NATO has been more than a collective defense organization for the exclusive benefit of its own members. NATO now comprises multi-dimensional efforts of security cooperation, taking advantage of a growing network of partnerships and exchanges.
Each organisation should focus on what it can do best. The added value approach will highlight complementary goals and possible synergies. This is the principle that will inspire each of the summits that will take place this June, from the G-8 to the USA-EU to NATO.
Our fourth key point is broadening the horizon toward the Greater Middle East.
While its geo-political boundaries have changed in relation to historical circumstances, the Mediterranean has never lost its fundamental character of openness to the outside world. Therefore I warmly welcome the presence at this Seminar of our friends from Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
What holds for our Mediterranean partners -- "joint ownership", common challenges and a two-state vision for Middle East peace -- holds equally true for you and for any other Middle Eastern country interested in mutually fruitful cooperation with NATO.
On the basis of these principles, we are in favor of launching at Istanbul a new joint cooperation initiative open to all governments in the Greater Middle East interested in a security partnership against the common threat of fundamentalism.
We must not only prepare ourselves for better managing present and future crises together. We must also consolidate the foundations of peace and stability, confronting the root causes of social unrest and cultural alienation.
I would like to conclude by saying that we owe profound respect to the efforts of countries to modernize without sacrificing their own cultures and traditions. This is a challenge we all face and will continue to face -- including those of us in other latitudes. We understand the perils and paradoxes involved.
But the path of modernization is both right and possible. Thinkers like Amartya Sen and Fatima Mernissi remind us with legitimate pride and strong conviction that values like democracy and constructive dialogue are not bound by cultural or geographical barriers.
On this basis, we can and must find common ground to face together the threats of fanaticism and intolerance.