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NATO pledges bigger role in Iraq

Monday, June 28, 2004

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- NATO closed ranks Sunday on a pledge to take a bigger military role in Iraq as violence and bloodshed surged before the delicate political turnover in Baghdad. President Bush declared that the alliance was poised to "meet the threats of the 21st century."

Determined to offer support for the fledgling Iraqi government that takes power Wednesday, NATO leaders were ready to announce a plan to train and equip Iraq's struggling security forces to deal with lawlessness and terrorism.

Bush will join British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other leaders of the 26-nation alliance today at talks in the Istanbul convention center under an extraordinary security blanket. F-16 warplanes flew overhead while more than 23,000 police patrolled the streets.

Bush's visit triggered protests by more than 40,000 Turks chanting anti-Bush slogans as they marched in the Kadikoy district, on the Asian side of Istanbul. Turkey vowed that it would not negotiate with Islamic militants in Iraq who are threatening to behead three Turkish hostages. Bush said the terrorist incident would not mar the summit.

NATO's agreement on an Iraq training program allowed the alliance to stand united after being torn last year by sharp divisions over the U.S.-led invasion. U.S. officials conceded that details of the plan still have to be worked out about its size, cost and timing, and Germany expressed some reservations. Still, the administration viewed the plan as an election-year victory for Bush, answering Democratic rival John Kerry's criticism that the president has failed to enlist global allies in Iraq.

"We're going to work together to help make sure NATO is configured militarily to meet the threats of the 21st century," Bush said at a photo opportunity with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Defining the nature of the threat, de Hoop Scheffer said, "We have terrorism everywhere. There's fights everywhere, be it here in this city, be it in New York, Uzbekistan, Mombasa, Yemen, you name it. This alliance has to participate in fighting it first, and winning it."

In addition to a training program in Iraq, NATO is expected to say it will consider further steps to support Iraq's security, a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the document has not been released. NATO also will agree to expand its Afghanistan mission beyond Kabul, where there are 5,800 NATO troops, the official said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said that while NATO takes new responsibilities in Iraq, it still has unfinished business in Afghanistan. "A lot of the NATO countries have not fulfilled commitments in terms of defense allocations, defense spending, even the provision of troop numbers," said Frist, here on a speech-making visit.

Germany's Schroeder renewed his opposition to sending troops to Iraq, even for training. "We are already working to train police officers in the United Arab Emirates, and we do that happily," Schroeder said. U.S. officials indicated they would be content with that.

"Every indication I have now is that NATO is coming together to say that they would be willing to provide police and military training to Iraqi forces," Secretary of State Colin Powell said as administration officials appeared on Sunday talk shows.

Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, said, "NATO will urge that this all happen on a very urgent basis, that this isn't a long planning exercise. ... I think you'll see this happen rather quickly." Despite Germany's objections, she said the training would be done preferably inside Iraq.

Sixteen of the 26 NATO members have individually sent forces as part of the U.S.-led coalition.

Rice said the European Commission, the EU's executive body, talked to Bush Saturday about "a couple hundred of million dollars a year support for NATO, support for Iraq."

Powell said the training plan would not require more troops from the United States, beyond the 135,000 soldiers already in Iraq. The United States had once hoped other countries would contribute troops but dropped that idea when it failed to raise interest.

Bush met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a key ally in the war on terrorism despite the Turkish parliament's rejection last year of a U.S. request to let American troops use Turkish bases as a staging point to invade Iraq from the north. Instead of looking back, Bush praised Turkey.

"I appreciate so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Muslim country and at the same time a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom," Bush said. He said he believed that the European Union should admit Turkey as a member.

Bush dined with NATO leaders Sunday evening at the opulent, gray-stoned Dolmabahce Palace. He also met briefly with six Turkish religious leaders, part of the president's effort to point out how Muslim country can be democratic and still have tolerance for various religious faiths.

"They represent the very best of Turkey, which is a country that is secular in its politics and strong in its faith," Bush said about the leaders, who posed for pictures with the president, Powell, Rice and Andy Card, White House chief of staff.


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