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NATO's First Meeting in Arab World Focuses on Cooperation

NATO envoys and officials from seven countries on the Mediterranean rim will meet in Rabat from Thursday, the first time the defense alliance has organized such a high-level meeting in an Arab nation.

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De Hoop Scheffer will lead the two-day long talks in Rabat

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who will chair the closed-door talks, said they would focus on strengthening political and military cooperation.

As well as ambassadors of the 26-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the other participants will be senior foreign ministry officials from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

They will meet for dinner late Thursday before formal talks Friday.

The so-called Mediterranean dialogue program was set up in 1995, but has never really taken off.

Two years ago the alliance, keen to bolster relations with the Arab world, agreed to give it fresh impetus, and defense ministers convened in February in Sicily.

De Hoop Scheffer said then that NATO needed to improve its public image in the Middle East and North Africa.

Algeria, Israel and Morocco are particularly interested in joining NATO-led anti-terror naval sweeps in the Mediterranean and around Gibraltar.

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