Powell urges a greater role for NATO in rebuilding Iraq

Ministers are standoffish but don't reject pleas as requests aren't specific


BRUSSELS, Belgium - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell urged NATO yesterday to consider expanding its role in Iraq, in what was the Bush administration's most pointed appeal for international help since going to war in the spring. He also called for more involvement from the United Nations.

"The United States welcomes a greater NATO role in Iraq's stabilization," Powell said in a speech to fellow NATO ministers. "We welcome a more robust United Nations role as well."

The secretary stopped short of making specific requests. NATO provides logistical support to the Polish-led multinational division that is operating in south-central Iraq. Powell and other administration officials have recently suggested that NATO consider taking control of that division.

Ministers in the 19-nation security alliance - some of whom strongly opposed the war that toppled the government of Saddam Hussein - reacted coolly. Some suggested that NATO has its hands full in Afghanistan.

Some countries, such as France and Germany, have long made it clear that they will contribute troops to Iraq only if they are under U.N. command. But none of the NATO ministers opposed Powell's suggestion outright yesterday, the ministers said.

Powell's remarks, at a regularly scheduled meeting of NATO diplomats, were an indication of the strength of the Bush administration's desire to find help handling the costs and sacrifices of rebuilding Iraq.

Faced with a self-imposed deadline of this summer to transfer authority to an interim government, American officials also appear eager to increase the international legitimacy of their efforts in Iraq.

Washington is testing the waters after recent attacks in Iraq brought casualties to allies Italy, Britain, Turkey, Spain and Japan. The governments of those countries have said that despite rising public opposition, their support will not waver.

In Brussels, Powell, citing a U.N. resolution that encourages multilateral and regional groups to help rebuild Iraq, urged NATO ministers to prepare for decisions by June, when NATO heads of state meet in Turkey to welcome seven new members.

"As we prepare for the Istanbul summit," he said, "we urge the alliance to examine how it might do more to support peace and stability in Iraq, which every leader has acknowledged is critical to all of us."

Some diplomats expressed concerns that discussing more NATO involvement could revive the international rifts that opened in the buildup to the war.

But some American officials seem certain of NATO's eventual willingness. Also in Brussels yesterday, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said a larger role in Iraq for NATO was all but inevitable.

"Within the next year, you will see NATO getting involved in taking over the operations in Iraq - at least the start of such an involvement," Biden told a group of policy analysts.

Powell suggested that the United Nations, which drastically scaled back its operations in Iraq after its Baghdad headquarters were bombed in August, could claim a more prominent role without a new Security Council resolution. In a meeting in his home last month, Powell said, he prodded U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to find a way back into the country.

Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said yesterday that the U.N. role should be expanded before NATO increased its efforts.

"It's still too early," he said, according to the Associated Press. "However, we should keep in mind the fact that most of the NATO member states are present in Iraq."

"We believe that it would be wise if NATO engages itself deeper," he said.

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