Rifkind seeks security pact for Middle East bloc 54/54 over 3 deckys

Christopher Bellamy Defence Correspondent
Tuesday 05 November 1996 00:02 GMT

Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday proposed a security organisation which would include the entire Middle East region, going far beyond the current Arab-Israeli peace process to embrace Turkey, Iran and eventually Iraq.

The organisation would be comparable to the OSCE, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Mr Rifkind suggested that the new organisation might be called OCME, the Organisation for Cooperation in the Middle East

Speaking at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research in Abu Dhabi, Mr Rifkind said: "What is lacking at present is an overall structure to encourage cooperation between all the countries of the region, with the help and participation of friends outside, like Britain, France, the US and others - a structure which is comprehensive in its membership and wide-ranging in its functions."

British sources said the boundaries of such a regional security forum had not yet been defined, but that Russia, as a state with strong political, military and technological links with the region would almost certainly be one of the "others".

Mr Rifkind has been keen to launch the idea of an OCME for some time, and his proposals have been circulated in France and the US. Both Israelis and Arabs see him as influential in the Middle East but Mr Rifkind has been keen to widen the debate beyond the immediate Arab-Israeli focus of the middle east peace process.

The OSCE, which currently comprises 54 states including the US, Canada and Russia, emerged as a useful means of establishing contact between the two former military blocs in Europe - Nato and the Warsaw Pact. The absence of comparable organisations in Africa and the Middle East is seen as a disadvantage.

Britain believes that an OCME would be a useful forum for resolving strategic issues such as the supply of water - a potential cause of conflict between Turkey, which is a Nato country, Syria and Iraq. British officials also argue that, although the present Iraqi regime would be excluded from an OCME, it would offer a forum into which Iraq could, eventually, be integrated.

"Such an organisation would evolve rather than spring into existence," Mr Rifkind said. "An OCME would be open in principle to all in the region to participate. This would include a country like Turkey, intimately linked but not part of any regional bodies, of course without prejudice to its relations with the West ... I would expect in due course countries like Iraq and Iran to find their place in the OCME, once circumstances permit."

Mr Rifkind said that one natural function for the new organisation would be to support and build on the results of the Arab-Israeli peace process.

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