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NATO's Parliamentary Assembly Session to Focus on Middle East

The 50th Annual Session of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly opened Friday in Venice. Participants will focus their discussions on a variety of issues including reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and relations between NATO and the European Union.

Three hundred legislators from 40 different countries are gathered in Venice for the 50th Annual Session of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly. The Secretary General of the Assembly, Simon Lunn, explained the purpose of the gathering.

"This assembly brings together members of parliament, legislators from all of the full members of the alliance," said Simon Lunn. "It is a forum for dialogue among parliamentarians. It also represents for NATO member governments a very valuable indicator of collective parliamentary opinion."

Mr. Lunn said NATO governments today need parliamentary support for its operations. The assembly provides a forum for government officials to exchange views about key issues. For the first time this year, a joint plenary session will be held Saturday with the ambassadors of the 26 member nations of the NATO Council.

Mr. Lunn said the NATO assembly has expanded significantly since its first meeting in 1955, and today faces a very different global environment which will influence the issues the assembly will address:

"Issues such as the struggle against terrorism; NATO's role in this and in other areas; NATO operations in Afghanistan; in Kosovo; its newest training mission in Iraq; its role in what is now called as the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative; its role in future relationship with countries of what is called the broader Middle East; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and so on," he said.

He added that careful attention will be paid to alliance operations and missions. Referring to Afghanistan, where parliamentary elections are to be held in the spring, Mr. Lunn said members of parliament will want to know from the NATO council how governments are planning to provide needed forces and equipment.

"One of the points of concern is the apparent inability of member countries to furnish the necessary capabilities for the alliance to carry out the number of mission that it has," continued Simon Lunn.

Mr. Lunn also said legislators are very eager to hear about the growing cooperation between the European Union and NATO in issues of defense and security. They will to want to know about the state of the trans-Atlantic relationship and how the relationship between the NATO council and Parliamentary Assembly can improve.