Thursday, December 9, 2004

From combined dispatches

BRUSSELS — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell expressed irritation yesterday with six NATO members that have barred their military officers from an alliance-approved program to train Iraqi forces.

Although NATO has recruited trainers from the alliance’s integrated military command, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Greece and Luxembourg are opposed to the plan.

Their defiance involves only a small number of officers, but shows that hard feelings about the war persist within the alliance almost two years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Mr. Powell, in Belgium for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, discussed the issue with colleagues yesterday.

The secretary said at a press conference that the six governments had created a situation that was “quite awkward” by holding back officers assigned to the NATO staff. Such actions “hurt the credibility and cohesion” of NATO’s international staff organization, Mr. Powell said on what is likely his last visit to the alliance’s headquarters before Condoleezza Rice takes over as his successor.

The six countries dismiss U.S. objections, saying they had made their stance clear when the training mission was agreed to in June.

“There has been no change of mind. We will send no troops to Iraq,” German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said.

“Given the current security situation, we think it is more efficient and useful if training takes place outside of Iraq,” French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer welcomed pledges by other countries, including Poland, Hungary, Norway and the Netherlands, to send more staff to the training mission, located within Baghdad’s international green zone.

“The number of personnel will go from 60 to 300, including trainers and support staff,” Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said. “I am a very happy man as secretary-general.”

NATO sources said the new contributions would take the total number of trainers in Iraq to nearly 100, with the rest as support staff, and that they should start as soon as possible.

The 26-member alliance also aims to set up a military academy on the outskirts of Baghdad with more trainers, but Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said it would not be ready before early next year.

Mr. Powell said the alliance also committed itself to support Afghanistan’s spring parliamentary elections and to expand NATO-led operations into western Afghanistan.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represented his country in a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. In a joint statement, the council appealed to all parties in Ukraine “to continue to avoid the use or instigation of violence, to refrain from intimidation of voters, and to work to ensure a free, fair electoral process that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people.”

Mr. Powell said he was pleased that NATO and Russia had found common ground on Ukraine.

It was announced yesterday that President Bush will visit NATO and the European Union on Feb. 22 in a bid to rebuild ties at the start of his second term.

Mr. Powell’s colleagues gave him two ovations, honoring him for an association with NATO that goes back 40 years.

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