Saturday, June 26, 2004

ENNIS, Ireland — The Bush administration expects to get a commitment from NATO to help train Iraqi security forces at the alliance’s summit next week in Istanbul, an important diplomatic victory that President Bush was merely hoping for just two weeks ago.

France and Germany, which expressed tepid support for a NATO role in troops training at the Group of Eight summit in Georgia earlier this month, yesterday dropped their opposition to the wording of such an agreement as NATO nations’ ambassadors struck a tentative deal in Brussels.

“We’ve agreed on it; we’ve agreed on it tentatively,” one diplomat told Reuters news agency.

A senior diplomat in Brussels said Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s request for help dissolved the opposition of France and Germany, which were against the war to topple Saddam Hussein and install a democratic government.

“I think that everybody here and a number of our other allies believe that when you get from a leader like Allawi a request for training, that NATO needs to be responsive to that and Istanbul is the time to be responsive,” said a senior Bush administration official yesterday on the condition of anonymity.

NATO’s 26 members had until 6 a.m. today to raise objections, before the wording of a statement was adopted.

Diplomats said there were differences over whether NATO should train Iraqi officers inside the country under a NATO flag or limit its role to training outside of Iraq and acting as a clearinghouse for national efforts. There also were disputes over whether to open the door to a more far-reaching NATO military involvement at a later stage.

The senior Bush administration official said he didn’t expect a specific plan by NATO to train Iraqi security forces, but “a commitment to do the planning” that will involve efforts led by NATO both inside and outside Iraq.

Taking the American label off Iraq is the immediate goal that NATO’s formal involvement would achieve, but the Bush administration also sees this weekend’s summit as an opportunity to more sharply focus NATO’s purpose — the joint protection of member states — from dealing with a now irrelevant enemy, the defunct Soviet Union, to the more immediate threat of global terrorism.

That new enemy emerged again yesterday with an explosion at Istanbul’s airport, which came after two bombs exploded in Ankara and Istanbul — one just outside the hotel in which Mr. Bush will be staying.

White House officials, however, say they are convinced that the president and his traveling party will be safe from attack at the summit.

Mr. Bush arrived yesterday in Ireland, a country that appears to have retained a great affection for the American people, but markedly less so for the man who led the United States into war in Iraq.

Mr. Bush will meet today with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, the head of the European Union, for the scheduled EU/U.S. summit. Along with planned discussions on trade — the booming Irish economy depends largely on good U.S. relations — Mr. Ahern is expected to bring up the abuse of prisoners in Iraqi and Guantanamo Bay detention centers.

Newspapers in Ireland have been obsessed with the topic, with left-leaning publications describing the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison as nothing short of torture.

The cover of yesterday’s left-leaning Ireland Evening Herald featured a picture of Mr. Bush, lips pursed, superimposed next to an infant injured in Thursday’s attacks in Iraq. The headline “Flying Into a Storm” topped a story that said Mr. Bush’s “Iraqi nightmare has plunged into new depths of horror.”

The paper called Thursday’s violence that killed 100 persons “one of the most blood-soaked days in the history of Iraq.” The Evening Herald did not mention the chemical attacks launched by Saddam on Iraq’s Kurdish population in the early 1990s that reportedly killed thousands of villagers.

Mr. Bush also did an interview with the Irish television network RTE that proved more combative than any with American journalists.

Mr. Bush told RTE that he was prepared for the cool reception in Ireland and dismissed a question by reporter Carol Coleman whether “the majority of our public do not welcome your visit because they’re angry over Iraq, angry over Abu Ghraib [prison].”

“If they think that a few soldiers represents the entirety of America, they don’t really understand America, then,” Mr. Bush said Thursday night.

Twice when trying to explain his view that Saddam posed a threat to the United States and that toppling the dictator was key to winning the war on terror, he was interrupted by Miss Coleman.

“Let me finish. Let me finish, please,” Mr. Bush said when Miss Coleman cut him off to insist that the “world is a more dangerous place today” because of the war in Iraq.

“You ask the questions and I’ll answer them, if you don’t mind,” he said after one of five interruptions in a 15-minute interview.

Thousands were expected to protest Mr. Bush’s visit near the Dromoland Castle, where the president was staying, and in cities throughout Ireland.

Mr. Bush said he welcomed the dissent because that is a hallmark of free countries.

“People don’t like war,” Mr. Bush said. “But what they should be angry about is the fact that there was a brutal dictator there that had destroyed lives and put them in mass graves and had torture rooms.”

The anger toward Mr. Bush was shared by some Irish politicians and prominent citizens, if not Mr. Ahern. Sinn Fein member Mary Lou McDonald said the “ongoing brutal occupation” of Iraq by the United States “must end.”

Irish Sen. David Norris in yesterday’s Irish Examiner denounced the “torture” of prisoners by U.S. troops and said the Bush presidency “has created a new dark age in terms of civil rights.”

Mr. Ahern, while reflective of his country’s division over the war, has allowed U.S. military planes to refuel in Shannon Airport. Many Irish peace activists contend that such permission threatens Ireland’s neutrality in the Iraq war, but Irish officials say such concerns take a back seat to possibly antagonizing the country’s most important trading partner.

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