International experts have been focusing on Mediterranean dialogue and the need to succeed in Afghanistan at a conference on security and cooperation in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia. Sabina Castelfranco reports for the VOA from Sicily.

Security and cooperation experts attending the 2-day conference in Palermo stressed the need for progress in a Mediterranean dialogue. They mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in Lebanon and the Balkans, and the question of Cyprus as issues that require immediate and constant attention.

Professor Mohamed Nadir Aziza, Director General of the Mediterranean Observatory, a group partially funded by Italy's Foreign Ministry, told participants that the Mediterranean region, with a total population of 450 million, is complex because the countries comprising it are different culturally and politically.

Aziza said nations on both the northern and southern banks of the Mediterranean Sea must unite in order to confront challenges, such as the threat of terrorism.

He also backed the proposal for a Mediterranean Union, launched by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Aziza says there is no legal body representing the countries along the Mediterranean. He says there is Europe, the Maghreb, the near, medium or far east, but no institution for the Mediterranean.

Speakers at the conference, organized by the Italian Atlantic Committee and the Atlantic Treaty Association, umbrella organizations working on security issues in NATO countries, also addressed the situation in Afghanistan and the need for the NATO mission there to succeed.

Experts agreed that the Taleban and al-Qaida must not be allowed to revive their brutal rule over Afghanistan. Gary Robbins, Director for European Security and Political Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, said this would present a major long-term threat to the people of Afghanistan but also to the surrounding region, the Middle East and western societies in general.

"If we allow Afghanistan again to become a failed state and a haven of terrorists, this will lead again to the export of violent extremism and likely throw the region into further turmoil," said Robbins.

Robbins stressed that Afghanistan must be helped to develop its economy, civil society, rule of law and above all the ability to assume responsibilities on its own.

He said that the Afghan experience shows that reconstruction and stability require the joint effort of the international community.