Europe urged to help NATO more in Iraq
BRUSSELS - The United States said it expected European countries to come up with offers of help in Iraq and Afghanistan at a NATO meeting on Thursday to discuss the alliance's role in the insurgency-hit countries.
Without referring to any countries by name, NATO Secretary- General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also called for a greater European role by telling allied foreign ministers that transatlantic ties depended on a fair burden-sharing of security tasks.
The United States wants European allies to come forward with offers of soldiers for NATO-run training in Baghdad and at a military academy just outside the city. It is also wants troops to widen NATO's existing peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.
"I think what you'll see at this ministerial is a number of countries coming forward to contribute -- to pledge -- both officers and force protection troops to this mission," a senior U.S. official said of the Iraqi training operation.
"I would expect three, four or five countries to make new pledges," he said before Secretary of State Colin Powell attended his last NATO session before he hands over to successor Condoleezza Rice.
NATO has said it is looking for up to 300 trainers to staff the academy but says it can start training in Baghdad's Green Zone with fewer. Diplomats say so far only 38 have been pledged on top of some 60 training staff already there.
"We are hoping to get enough to start the training mission within Baghdad's Green Zone," said a NATO source. "The military academy would be in a second phase." NATO foreign ministers were due to discuss the Iraq mission over their lunch.
OFFERS ON THE TABLE
Washington is also looking to European allies to help expand coverage of NATO's 8,500 ISAF peacekeeping force westwards from Kabul and the north, where it is currently operating.
But NATO officials said that despite offers made by several nations ahead of the meeting, they were still not in a position to announce that expansion.
"There are substantial offers on the table ... We are cautiously optimistic we can move forward in time for the elections," one official said of parliamentary elections seen by early May and which some fear could spark renewed violence.
Italy has voiced readiness to contribute troops, as has Canada -- but later in 2005 and probably after the elections.
Opening the meeting, de Hoop Scheffer said it was a top priority to bolster U.S.-Europe ties shaken by the opposition of countries such as France and Germany to the war in Iraq. "We all know the importance of preserving the (transatlantic) consensus in the weeks and months ahead of us ... This requires a fair burden-sharing among allies," he said.
Germany, one of the keenest Iraq war opponents, reiterated it would not send troops to Iraq but stressed it was helping in other ways.
"Our position is clear and that is we shall not be sending any troops to Iraq," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters.
"On the other hand, we started training (in the United Arab Emirates) while others were simply scratching their heads," he added of German training of Iraqi military personnel outside of Iraq. He noted Germany had also offered Iraq debt relief.