Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Powell asks for NATO's help on Iraq

WAR ON TERROR Afghanistan remains the primary focus for NATO, but its secretary-general and others signaled increased support for coalition efforts in Iraq

AFP , BRUSSELS

Italian soldier Antonella Fancellu, 23, of the ''Sassari Brigade,'' receives a thumbs-up from an Iraqi youth during a patrol of village roads near the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriyah on Thursday. Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino said on Wednesday that the security conditions of Italian troops in Iraq have deteriorated remarkably.

PHOTO: AP

US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday asked NATO to take on a greater role in Iraq to help stabilize the violence-wracked country where the US is seeking to ease pressure on its own forces.

Speaking after meeting his NATO counterparts, he said none of them -- including European heavyweights who opposed the US-led conflict, sparking an unprecedented crisis at the Alliance -- had spoken out against the idea of boosting the Alliance's presence.

One plan could be for NATO to take over from Poland in leading a division of the multinational force in the country, he said, adding that such initiatives might be decided on next year.

"Not one single NATO member here today [or seven countries due to join next year] spoke against the possibility of an expanded role for NATO in Iraq. And that includes ... France and Germany," he said, when asked whether Paris and Berlin had raised objections.

The Iraq war and the diplomatic battles that preceded it sparked one of the biggest crises in NATO's 54-year history, as three anti-war countries -- France, Germany and Belgium -- opposed Alliance help for Turkey.

Powell noted the 19-member Alliance had already provided logistical support to the Polish division of a multinational force in Iraq, and that 16 NATO members were part of the coalition in the war-scarred country.

While raising the possibility of a number of options for NATO, he said Afghanistan -- where NATO took over command of the International Security Assistance Force in August -- must remain the priority for the moment.

"Our principal focus right now has to be Afghanistan," he said, adding that the Alliance could "think about what we might be able to do in Iraq in the coming months and sometime perhaps next year."

Powell also recalled that UN Security Council resolution 1511 passed on Oct. 16 "encourages the engagement of multilateral and regional organizations in this effort."

There was no immediate need for a new UN resolution, he said. "There may come a time when another UN resolution might be appropriate. But ... we see no need for a new UN resolution at this moment," he added.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson echoed Powell's call for a wider Alliance role.

"The Alliance must continue to help NATO countries who take on leadership roles in Iraq, and prepare itself to take on new roles and missions where necessary," he told the meeting.

Speaking after the talks, Robertson said a decision on Iraq could be on the agenda at a NATO summit in Istanbul in June.

"No one is ruling out a wider NATO role when the time is right. That might well be an issue that will be discussed at Istanbul," he said.

Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz -- whose country was rewarded for its staunch support for the US during the Iraq war with command of a sector of Iraq after the conflict -- welcomed the possibility.

"We believe it would be wise if NATO engages itself in a deeper way in the future," he said.

Powell's trip to Brussels comes only days after US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld held talks with his NATO counterparts.

On Tuesday Rumsfeld said that most if not all NATO allies with troops in Iraq had pledged to stay on there despite the high profile casualties that had been suffered by some countries.

His comments came after seven Spaniards, two South Koreans, two Japanese and a Colombian were killed at the weekend as armed supporters of the former Iraqi regime intensified attacks on foreigners working with the US-led coalition.

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