PARIS (AP) – The United States wants to revise its military aid for North Africa, based on which countries are working hardest to eradicate terrorism, a U.S. State Department official said Tuesday.
In outlining U.S. policy goals, William Jordan, head of the State Department’s North Africa bureau, also welcomed Islamist parties in Arab politics, as long as they play by democratic rules.
U.S. military aid to North Africa is just one sign of the improving relations between Washington and the region since the Sept. 11 terror attacks. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sought to encourage more cooperation on fighting terrorism and Islamic extremism during a visit to the region earlier this month.
While Jordan praised overall military cooperation with the countries, he said the aid needed to be more targeted. “In the context of our anti-terrorism initiative, we will reconsider our policy in this domain, … to make the military aid more targeted for the concerned parties as a function of their participation in this initiative,” he said at a conference at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. He would not say which countries would be rewarded or punished.
U.S. officials are encouraged by the prospect of closer cooperation with the Algerian military, which is the largest in North Africa. So far, he said, the aid to Algeria has involved only non-lethal weapons, while aid to Tunisia focuses on maintaining existing arsenals. Jordan played down speculation that Algeria’s secret services have backed a leading Algerian terrorist organization, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, or GSPC.
While saying Algerian services were theoretically capable of such activities, he said, “I don’t accept them,” given the Algerian government’s interest in proving its anti-terrorist mettle. Algeria battled its own terrorism problem in the 1990s with an insurgency against the government that saw more than 100,000 deaths.
Jordan urged faster and deeper democratic reforms in Tunisia and Morocco in particular, and insisted that the United States was not opposed to Islamist parties. “We accept Islamist parties if Islamist parties accept the rules of the game” such as freedom of expression and other democratic values and renouncing violence as a means to finance their objectives, he said. “It’s a question of extremism and its eventual effects on a democratic system.”
He reflected this sentiment in urging Hamas to accept the international community’s demands as it takes over rule of the Palestinian Authority.
“It’s up to Hamas to decide whether to accept the rules of the game,” he said.