The US Ambassador treaded on delicate political ground yesterday when he asked whether Malta's neutrality meant the country was also neutral to peace efforts around the world.

In a brief address at a seminar commemorating the Bush-Gorbachev summit in Malta 20 years ago, US Ambassador Douglas Kmiec insisted neutrality had to be defined in relation to something else.

While recognising Malta's participation in Nato's Partnership for Peace programme, Prof. Kmiec said: "While I respect how Malta values its neutrality, the question I ask is: Neutral to what? Is it neutrality to peace? Is it neutrality to assisting those striving for peace?"

Just this week, Prof. Kmiec urged Malta to contribute to America's campaign in Afghanistan by training locals there in agriculture and good governance.

Significantly, his words come in the same week US President Barack Obama announced an increase of 30,000 American troops in Afghanistan and requested Nato allies to send an additional 10,000 soldiers.

With reference to the 43 countries that have troops in Afghanistan, the ambassador said they were the ones to put "boots to the ground" even though many other countries saw it as their mission to bring peace to the region.

The two-dimensional way of interpreting events during the Cold War, Prof. Kmiec added, made it easy to categorise the world into "us and them".

"It was a very simplistic way of knowing who the enemy was but today we realise this was a deeply flawed way of looking at the world because it prevented us from understanding the complexities of different countries," he said, insisting the challenge to achieve "tranquil civil order" was unrelated to the polarisation of the past.

The day-long seminar was organised by the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, which also celebrated 20 years since its inception.

In his introductory address President Emeritus Guido de Marco, who chairs the academy, recalled the events that shaped the end of the Cold War and dwelt on the importance of peace in the Mediterranean.

"How right was Malta to insist in the Helsinki summit of 1975 that no peace was possible in Europe unless there was peace in the Mediterranean," he said, calling for a concerted effort to find a resolution to the Middle East conflict.

Other speakers included President Emeritus Eddie Fenech Adami, Foreign Minister Tonio Borg, Labour Foreign Affairs spokesman George Vella, ambassadors and former US Chief of Staff to President George Bush John H. Sununu..

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