Top defense officials and diplomats warned Friday that growing unrest in Egypt and elsewhere could affect Israeli and European security, although it may provide new impetus to the Mideast peace process.
On the sidelines of a meeting of the world's top security officials, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance wouldn't interfere in other countries' domestic affairs, but it was watching developments closely.
"I'm concerned about the global power shift — I'm concerned about the evolving security situation just outside our doorstep in North Africa and the Mideast," he said. "My warning is against too deep and uncoordinated defense cuts in Europe."
Rasmussen said he recognized the need for a democratic solution in Egypt, and suggested it was inevitable. "In the long run no country can resist the will of the people," he said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told The Associated Press that the international community was concerned about stability, and would not make a specific demand on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to quit immediately.
"What we've called for is an orderly transition to start now, we haven't said anything about a specific day, or what it means for the president," Hague said.
"There are clearly major differences of opinion in Egypt, but we want the Egyptian people to be able to sort those out in a stable, open, democratic way," he said. "That is why we want to see an orderly transition to a more broadly based government, to free and fair elections, to real and visible and irrevocable change in Egypt."
Hague said that leaders across the Arab world must meet the "natural human demand for more open and flexible political systems," and added that protests which have stretched from Tunisia to Yemen were an urgent reminder of the need for progress on Middle East peace.
"It underlines the need to drive ahead with the Middle East peace process. I hope that it underlines to Israeli leaders the need to do that, because events may complicate still further the politics of the Middle East."
German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg opened the three day-conference telling delegates that no matter what comes of the upheaval in the region, Egypt and Jordan must respect peace treaties with Israel.
"These treaties must remain," he said. "Europe has influence in these countries, we should use it."
He also urged the government of Egypt to protect demonstrators, and said that human rights have to be respected.
Though the Egyptian situation is not on the formal program of the annual Munich Security Conference, events there have forced their way to the top of the agenda.
The high-level, three-day conference, in its 47th year, is renowned as a setting where top officials are able to address policy issues in an informal setting.
Already, the so-called "quartet" of Middle East peacemakers — the U.N., the U.S. the EU and Russia — have called a meeting on the sidelines of the conference for Saturday.
The conference brings together U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and high-powered delegations from the Mideast and other regions around the world.
Clinton has been pressing for measures that would ease tensions on the streets of Egypt and set the stage for democratic elections, and has condemned "in the strongest terms" the pro-government mobs that beat, threatened and intimidated reporters in Cairo.
Heading in to the conference Friday, World Bank President Robert Zoellick told Associated Press Television News it was still too early too say what the effect of the turmoil will be on world markets.
"You have seen the energy prices increase, but a lot will depend on what happens in the following days with the Suez canal," he said. "People are watchful, and there is obviously a lot of concern about what happens with the political process."
A key foreign policy goal for U.S. President Barack Obama will be realized Saturday, when Clinton and Lavrov meet on the sidelines of the conference to exchange signed copies of the New START treaty — a cornerstone of Obama's efforts to reset U.S. relations with Russia.
The treaty, negotiated last year, limits each side to 1,550 strategic warheads, down from 2,200. The pact also re-establishes a monitoring system that ended in December 2009 with the expiration of an earlier arms deal.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
- Mideast peace
- NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen