Monday, June 28, 2004

ISTANBUL — NATO will agree today to train Iraqi security forces — maybe inside the country — during a summit clouded by a terrorist threat to behead three Turkish civilians kidnapped in Iraq.

President Bush, who has tried since the September 11 attacks to shape NATO into a quick-response army to fight global terrorism, is poised to get much of what he wants by the time the summit ends tomorrow.

“We have decided today to offer NATO’s assistance to the government of Iraq with the training of its security forces,” said a draft declaration urging member nations “to contribute to the training of the Iraqi armed forces.”

“We have asked the North Atlantic Council to develop on an urgent basis the modalities to implement this decision with the Iraqi interim government,” said the draft, according to Agence France-Presse.

This refocusing of the mission of an organization created to counter Soviet military aggression makes this week’s summit “historic,” a senior Bush administration official said.

“This is the first NATO summit that is dealing almost exclusively about NATO’s future role … things like Afghanistan and Iraq, NATO’s transformation” the official said. “That means NATO has already gotten its mind adjusted to its new challenges.

“That makes this summit historic, because the debate about what NATO is for is answered,” he said. “Now, we are discussing how to go about it.”

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer hinted at the deal yesterday by stressing the need for NATO to act decisively in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“If we do not tackle the problems where they emerge, they will end up on our doorstep,” Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said, mirroring Mr. Bush’s oft-repeated doctrine that the United States will battle terrorists as they gather in other countries rather than fight them on American streets.

The kidnapping of three Turkish contractors has helped focus the meeting of NATO’s 26 members on helping U.S. and Iraqi forces quell the violence and chaos created by terrorists, especially the network run by Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Zarqawi’s militants said in a statement aired on Al Jazeera television Saturday that the three would be beheaded within 72 hours unless Turks stopped working with U.S.-led forces in Iraq. Two more persons — a Pakistani driver and a U.S. Marine — were kidnapped in Iraq yesterday.

“Turkey has been fighting terrorist activity for more than 20 years,” Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said. “They ask many things, they demand many things. We never consider them with seriousness.”

According to the administration official, Mr. Bush told Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in meetings yesterday that “this is a terrible situation” that highlights how terrorists in Iraq seek “to export chaos to the world, as well as chaos in Iraq.”

The senior Bush administration official also said that during the summit, NATO countries will agree to live up to earlier promises and send more military assistance, including troops, to Afghanistan.

Until now, he said, it has been difficult because few nations other than the United States can deploy and sustain significant numbers of troops.

“NATO needs to do more to have the capabilities to set these things up more easily,” he said. “But also, NATO has come a tremendous way in terms of taking on new responsibilities and carrying out missions that it didn’t know it would be dealing with a few years ago.”

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer admitted yesterday that “NATO’s credibility is on the line” in Afghanistan, but “we will deliver Afghanistan.”

Security in this city is extraordinarily high after three bombings in the days before Mr. Bush’s arrival that killed four persons. When Mr. Bush landed in Air Force One yesterday, he took a helicopter to his hotel while his motorcade served as a decoy.

Turkish officials, meanwhile, are using their position as summit hosts to strengthen ties to the United States, which were strained during the war. Mr. Bush, in turn, has gained Turkish favor by pushing for the European Union to speed the admission process for the secular Muslim state.

“I believe you ought to be given a date by the EU for your eventual acceptance into the EU,” Mr. Bush said yesterday.

At a meeting with Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Bush hailed “the example that 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.”

At a meeting later with Turkey’s top religious figures, including Muslims, Jews and Christians, Mr. Bush said they “represent the very best of Turkey, which is a country that is secular in politics and strong in its faith.”

The administration also has given Turkey assurances that it would help in the fight against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party terrorist group, which operates in Turkey and Iraq.

Although the senior Bush administration official said, “In NATO, nothing is done until it’s done,” the alliance is expected to agree to a plan to train Iraqi forces and even conduct operations inside Iraq.

That measure has been opposed by France and Germany, who were against the war and refused to join 16 other NATO members in sending troops to Iraq after Saddam’s regime was toppled.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan stressed that the request for NATO help came from Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, rather than the United States, seemingly making the difference for some NATO countries.

“I expect that at [today’s] discussions, NATO will … give a clear signal of our willingness to enhance our support to a sovereign Iraqi government,” Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said.

Mr. Allawi has increased pressure on NATO to give him help inside the country by suggesting that the planned January elections will be postponed until spring because of security concerns.

Mr. McClellan said Mr. Bush still supports January elections — which were called for in the unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution passed this month endorsing Iraq’s transformation to sovereignty — but would not quibble about a delay.

“We understand the concerns that the prime minister is raising about the security situation,” Mr. McClellan said. “That’s why it’s important that we continue to train and equip and beef up the Iraqi security forces to work with them to address those security threats.”

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