NATO fears that Syria's chemical weapons could get into the wrong hands. The conflict in Syria could destabilize the whole region. However, NATO isn't going to do anything for now.
The mood was serious at the meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday (23.04.2013) in Brussels.
Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the situation in Syria had got dramatically worse: "It's outrageous what we are witnessing in Syria. It's a real tragedy, for the country, for the Syrian people; it's a risk for regional security and stability."
He added that the Syrian president, Bashar Assad, should accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, although he didn't directly call for his resignation. The community of nations should "send a very clear and unified message to the Syrian regime."
But those who were at the meeting at NATO headquarters experienced just how lacking in unity the message currently is: among those present was the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, who accused the Syrian opposition of rejecting attempts by the government to enter into dialogue. Russia remains loyal to Assad and has joined China in blocking any attempt at the United Nations at taking action against him.
The danger of chemical weapons
Meanwhile, NATO wants to restrict its role strictly to that of defending its member Turkey, and to avoid any thought of military intervention in Syria, for which NATO has no mandate. It's stationed defensive Patriot missiles at the Turkish-Syrian border, manned by German troops.
But Rasmussen warned about rumors that chemical weapons might be used: "There is no call for NATO to play a role, but if these challenges remain unaddressed they could directly affect our own security," he told reporters. "So we will continue to remain extremely vigilant."
The new US Secretary of State, John Kerry, taking part in a NATO foreign ministers' meeting for the first time since he took office, warned that NATO should be aware that, if the Assad regime collapsed, chemical weapons could get into the hands of extremists. That meant it was all the more important to maintain a dialogue with democratic groups and to work towards a political solution.
Germanycommits itself to Afghanistan
There's scarcely any disagreement within NATO as to future policy in Afghanistan. NATO plans to end its fighting operations there by the end of 2014, but it intends it to keep troops there as advisers, trainers and supporters.
The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, told his colleagues that NATO didn't want to leave Afghanistan in the lurch and create a power vacuum. That might mean "that a new secure haven for terrorists could emerge." Germany, he said, was the first NATO country to announce its commitment for the future: it would deploy 600-800 soldiers there.
He made it clear afterwards that the German announcement was not seen as pushy, but was welcomed by the other countries. It was, he added, "important for the other countries to know what Germany was ready to do, so that they could consider what they could offer."
Kerry confirmed this position when he thanked Germany for its offer. But his Netherlands counterpart, Frans Timmermans said that his government "would only start the decision process when we know what the American plans are." It could take months, he said, before the other countries have their figures ready.
The Taliban could join the government
Rasmussen did not exclude the possibility that the Talian could be part of a political process of reconciliation in Afghanistan. There would be three conditions: the Afghan government must be in the driver's seat, all the parties must respect the democratic Afghan constitution, including respect for human rights and the rights of women, and the Taliban would cut all links with terrorist groups. "If these conditions are fulfilled, we should give it a chance," he said.