- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

BRUSSELS — NATO yesterday put off consideration of a U.S. call for a more prominent role for the alliance in Iraq at this time, saying it is “preoccupied” with leading the international security force in Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell pressed for a “greater NATO role in Iraq’s stabilization” during a meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers in Belgium, challenging his colleagues to think about what the alliance can do to help the U.S.-led coalition.

“As we prepare for the Istanbul summit,” Mr. Powell said in reference to a June meeting of the NATO heads of state, “we urge the alliance to examine how it might do more to support peace and stability in Iraq, which every leader has acknowledged is critical to all of us.”

But NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said the response of the other allies was that “at the present moment NATO is focusing on Afghanistan,” although “no one is ruling out a wider NATO role when the time is right.”

“No decision was taken at this moment because of the alliance’s preoccupation with Afghanistan,” Mr. Robertson told reporters after the ministers’ meeting. “The NATO countries have made it clear that has to be the major priority at the moment.”

Although Mr. Powell seemed to be asking his colleagues to go to Istanbul with specific ideas about what the alliance might do, Mr. Robertson said NATO members might only begin thinking about such ideas at the summit, “if the circumstances are right.”

“Those circumstances might involve a different U.N. environment,” said Mr. Robertson, who is leaving his post at the end of the month. “They might also involve a different view of what’s happening on the ground and the desire of individual countries to do something with NATO support.”

Mr. Powell said he saw no need at this time for a new U.N. resolution on Iraq that might make it easier for other countries to legitimize their involvement in Iraq.

“There may come at time when another U.N. resolution might be appropriate, but we are not drafting one now. We see no need for a new U.N. resolution at this moment,” he told reporters at the NATO headquarters.

He argued that Security Council Resolution 1511 provided sufficient ground for “individual nations or any alliance” to contribute to the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq.

The secretary also pointed out that 16 of the 26 current and proposed NATO nations now are part of the coalition. NATO provides logistical support for the Polish division in Iraq.

“We are looking forward to consulting with our friends in the alliance and with the secretary-general’s office here as to options for enhanced NATO participation in the Iraq mission,” Mr. Powell said.

He agreed with his colleagues that Afghanistan should be the focus of the alliance’s attention, but added that it can also think about Iraq without “losing sight of that particular vital mission.”

“Maybe at some point, we can consider that NATO will take over the responsibility for the sector that the Polish division is currently managing,” he said. “There may be broader things that NATO could do.”

Mr. Powell noted that none of the participants in yesterday’s meeting — not even France and Germany, which opposed the war in Iraq — voiced objection to the idea in principle.

However, the meeting’s final communique only said that NATO “continues to support Poland” and that the North Atlantic Council, the alliance’s policymaking body, “will review NATO’s contribution to the stabilization efforts on a regular basis.”

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