NATO and security partners gather in Åre

Representatives of NATO members and partner countries in North Africa and Asia gathered Tuesday in Åre, in non-NATO member Sweden, for two days of talks on security issues.

A large security operation was underway for the conference in the ski resort in central Sweden.

Swedish and Norwegian NATO opponents were expected to hold demonstrations on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Monday, some 250 protestors shouted “NATO out of Sweden” and “US, Out of Iraq” in Östersund, where the airport closest to Åre is located.

The meeting, the first of its kind, will bring together foreign ministers within the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council Security Forum, which is made up of the 26 NATO countries and 21 members of the alliance’s Partnership for Peace programme.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was to host an informal dinner on Tuesday evening, followed by a seminar Wednesday on security issues.

The meeting was to have been attended by a large number of foreign ministers, though many have pulled out. The largest NATO countries, including the United States, will be represented by lower ranking officials.

The meeting is seen as a new initiative aimed at furthering collaboration with partner states on security challenges, de Hoop Scheffer said in a speech prepared for delivery before leaving Brussels for Sweden.

He added that NATO was bolstering its cooperation with countries in the Caucasus and central Asia and engaging in dialogue with countries in North Africa and the Middle East in a bid to increase cooperation around the world.

Sweden is a member of the Partnership for Peace programme.