Despite 6 refusals, NATO will increase Iraq training staff

Posted in NATO | 10-Dec-04 | Author: Joel Brinkley| Source: International Herald Tribune

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell , left, looks at NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer as he thanks Powell at his farewell trip to NATO during the North Atlantic Council foreign ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Thursday Dec. 9, 2004.
BRUSSELS The North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreed on Thursday to enlarge from 60 to 300 the number of personnel stationed in Baghdad to train Iraqi soldiers, but not before there was a contentious discussion with the foreign ministers of six countries that refuse to participate.

"There is a clear agreement to support Iraq on its way to permanent security and stability," said the NATO secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

But he grumbled a bit as he added: "With an international integrated military staff, that means all officers should be able to participate. All of the NATO allies should send people to participate in the operation."

Secretary of State Colin Powell of the United States was even more direct.

"When it comes time to perform a mission," he said at a news conference, "it seems to us to be quite awkward for suddenly members in that international staff to say I'm unable to go because of this national caveat or national exception."

NATO officials said there was a spirited debate over lunch between the foreign ministers of the six countries - France, Germany, Belgium, Greece, Spain and Luxembourg - and those who disagreed with their positions.

A senior American official acknowledged that the problem was serious. The Germans, for example, supply a significant portion of the officers on NATO's international command staff.

But Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, insisted that his country was not going to change its position.

"There has been no change of mind," he said. "We will send no German soldiers to Iraq."

On Thursday NATO officials also tried unsuccessfully to get members to send more troops to Afghanistan so the organization can expand its operations into the country's western provinces, which the United States has requested.

Some officials expressed frustration that not one country agreed, although some said they were considering the request.

Initially the NATO staff was to train senior Iraqi military officers inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone but later Thursday there was an agreement to move the operation to an even more heavily fortified facility to be built just outside the city.

De Hoop Scheffer said Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands had agreed to contribute to the newly enlarged force.

Powell said the nations refusing to participate are "hurting the credibility and the cohesion of such an international staff or organization," adding, "We think it is a problem and we had a pretty good discussion of it at our lunch."

Still, Powell said, the countries that will not send troops felt they had made their positions clear previously.

Fischer made the same point, saying, "The German position was made clear in Istanbul," where NATO held a summit last June and agreed on the Iraq-training mission.

Still, there was a light moment Thursday - Powell's last NATO meeting as he has resigned as secretary of state - when Fischer gave Powell a case and a keg of beer as part of a running joke.

As Powell explained, he had expressed admiration for German flip-top cans and Fischer had sent him a case. "The next time I saw him, since he's a member of the Green Party, I gave him the empties back," Powell said.

Powell confirms Bush visit

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that President George W. Bush hoped to use his February trip to Europe to mend relations strained over the Iraq war, Agence France-Presse reported from Paris.

Confirming that Bush intends to travel to Europe around Feb. 22, Powell told France 3 television that relations between Washington and Paris had not been as bad as portrayed, but he admitted "there was a major disagreement over Iraq and nobody can paper that over," according to an English translation of the interview supplied by the station.

He added: "We have shared values, yes, we have a common destiny to move into the future, and that will always bring us back together."