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NATO to take on Iraq role after sovereign government is in place

BRUSSELS, Belgium—The head of the NATO alliance said Friday the organization is willing to send troops to Iraq but that how they are used will be up to a new Iraqi government, not the U.S.-led coalition.

Speaking at an informal summit to welcome seven new members to the alliance, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said there is consensus within NATO for a broader role, but only under the auspices of a United Nations Security Council resolution. That resolution would have to come at the request of a new Iraqi government, said.

"Within the NATO alliance, I see a lot of support for such a resolution," de Hoop Scheffer said. What the role of NATO would be "is up to the sovereign Iraqi government to decide, not the coalition," he added.

His remarks made it clear that while 17 of NATO's 26 member countries are contributing in some way to the U.S.-led effort in Iraq, any large troop commitment could get mired in the fractious debate that has simmered for months among U.S. allies.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived here in part hoping to shore up support for a greater NATO role in Iraq. Powell said the United States would like to see NATO consider a more active role.

The U.S., however, has been unwilling to date to seek a new U.N. resolution, though a senior State Department officials said Thursday the United States is working with allies to determine what might go into a new one.

The U.S.-led coalition is scheduled to turn power over to a new Iraqi government June 30, though who will be in the interim government is not known.

De Hoop Scheffer reaffirmed NATO's commitment to Afghanistan where NATO commands a 6,500-strong international peacekeeping force based in Kabul, the capital.

But he also indicated that NATO would limit the role of its troops there. During a conference in Berlin earlier this week, Afghan president Hamid Karzai said he would like NATO to be active outside the capital by helping to disarm Afghanistan's warlords.

While NATO is committed to providing troops for five extra provincial reconstruction teams, "Afghanistan is not Kosovo in the sense that NATO does not have the mandate or the intent of blanketing Afghanistan with troops, nor does NATO have responsibility of fighting enormous problem of drugs."


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.