By PAUL AMES
The Associated Press
Thursday, June 28, 2007; 10:57 PM
OHRID, Macedonia -- NATO should be more involved in protecting its members' energy resources, the alliance's top diplomat said Thursday amid concerns that fuel supplies face threats ranging from terrorism to supply cuts by disgruntled exporters.
NATO has a "role to play in this field," Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a gathering of ministers and senior diplomats from almost 50 allied and partner nations.
Some NATO allies want it to consider a military role in protecting pipelines, oil platforms and sea routes bringing oil and gas to Europe and North America. Poland, which is heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas imports, has suggested a pact to support allies whose supplies are threatened.
But others, such as France _ traditionally wary of extending the trans-Atlantic alliance's role _ have been reluctant to see NATO take on new energy security tasks.
De Hoop Scheffer spoke at the meeting in this Macedonian lakeside city that drew officials from the 26 NATO members plus 23 nations in the alliance's "partnership for peace" program _ including Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, Balkan nations and neutral countries, such as Sweden and Ireland.
The agenda includes talks on the deadlock over Kosovo, where Serbia and Russia oppose a Western-backed plan that would let the ethnic-Albanian majority province break away from centuries of Serb rule.
The meeting's hosts warned the impasse was holding back efforts by Balkan nations to integrate with NATO and the European Union.
"Kosovo directly affects the security and stability of our region," Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said. "Its resolution will to a great extent determine the pace of the rapprochement of the region overall with the Euro-Atlantic structures."
Macedonia hopes to receive an invitation to join NATO next year along with Croatia and Albania.
Afghanistan is also to feature in the talks, particularly the military operations, concern over mounting civilian casualties and reconstruction efforts. Many of the partner nations have troops with the NATO-led force battling Taliban insurgents.
Associated Press Writer Konstantin Testorides contributed to this report.