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North African instability a concern for NATO: military chief

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

MONS, Belgium (Reuters) - Instability in north Africa is a concern for NATO which is keeping a close eye on events in Egypt and its neighbors, NATO's top military commander said on Tuesday.

Egypt, a large recipient of U.S. military aid, has been torn by violence and political upheaval since the army ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi this month. Tunisia's moderate Islamist government is resisting opposition calls to quit and violence is on the increase in Libya.

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, who took over as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe in May, said many European NATO members bordering the Mediterranean were affected by what happened in North Africa.

"Refugee flows, commerce, drugs, all kinds of things in Europe are affected by what goes on in northern Africa so any instability in northern Africa is clearly a concern of the NATO nations," he told a group of reporters at NATO's operational headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

"Right now, NATO is not planning for any actions in Egypt. Much like Syria, we are keeping a close eye on it, looking at how it affects our NATO partners and if we need to, we will do what we need to do to take care of our NATO partners," he said.

The Egyptian crisis has left the United States, the most powerful NATO member, treading a fine line with a pivotal Arab ally that it funds with $1.3 billion a year in military aid and whose stability is of crucial importance to Middle East peace.

Speaking about the situation in Syria, Breedlove said NATO was concerned about the conflict there "and the fact that the spillover from Syria could affect our allies" but he indicated no change in NATO's stance that it has no plans to get militarily involved there.

"At this time, we have no call for a NATO mission in Syria," he said.

He said however that NATO had done extensive reviews of its plans to defend NATO member Turkey, where the alliance has deployed Patriot anti-missile systems to protect it against possible attack from neighboring Syria.

(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130730/north-african-instability-concern-nato-military-chief