By Jason Moore

“THE Mediterranean is now a safer place, thanks to NATO.” We were probably unaware of it but a major NATO operation was underway and is still on-going close to our shores which involves thousands of service-people. This point was underlined yesterday by General James Jones, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander and Europe's top soldier.
General Jones was in Palma yesterday to thank the local authorities for their support and the hospitality given to visiting alliance ships.
The NATO chief said that over recent months NATO warships had been escorting maritime shipping through the straits of Gibraltar and had been carrying out searches for terrorists and even Weapons of Mass Destruction. He underlined the fact that the Spanish Navy had been playing a key role. “As a serving U.S. soldier I would also like to thank Spain for helping America in its hour of need.” During his long service career General Jones served in Vietnam and also visited Palma in his capacity as Colonel of an amphibious assault unit. He took over his present post in January this year. Returning to NATO operations in the Mediterranean, the General said that their patrols had resulted in the amount of illegal immigration to Europe from Africa falling by 50 percent. He also said that insurance premiums paid by merchant shipping had fallen because the Mediterranean was now considered a safer place.
He dismissed claims that the future of NATO was in doubt following the end of the cold war and underlined the fact that the alliance had an equally important role now as it did in the 20th century. General Jones said that NATO would be ready to take a role in Iraq if they were so ordered by the politicians, but he went on to say that at the moment the organisation had plenty of work with operations among others, in the Balkans and Afghanistan. Accompanied by the United States Consular Agent to the Balearics, Tumi Bestard, General Jones first visited the central government delegate to the Balearics, Miguel Ramis for talks yesterday morning ahead of longer than expected talks with acting Balearic president, Rosa Estaras at the Consolat de Mar.

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