Australia to play enhanced role in Nato: Foreign Minister Bishop

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia will accept an invitation to boost its role within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) at the group's summit in Wales, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday, adding that it was in the country's national interest.

While not a member, Canberra is a close US ally and has played an increasing part in Nato operations over the past decade, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Bishop said Australia had been formally invited to become part of its Enhanced Partnership Programme.

"At this meeting Australia will accept a formal invitation to become an enhanced partner of Nato," she said as she left for the summit this week in Wales. "This enhanced partnership means we will continue to cooperate at the very highest level with Nato, the most powerful political and military organisation in the world.

"This will bring considerable benefits to our defence force and to Australia more generally."

Being an enhanced member will give Australia permanent access to the organisation's planning at the earliest stages of future operations and ensure a presence in its governing councils.

Bishop said Australia would maintain autonomy in deciding the extent and character of involvement in future Nato-led operations, but would play a bigger role in global crises.

"Australia has proven itself time and again to be a reliable and capable partner," she said. "It is in our national interests to continue to cooperate with Nato at this higher level, given that we are now in the transition phase of the longest mission that Nato has been involved in, in Afghanistan."