Global Policy Forum

Leaders Dispute NATO Role in Iraq


By Glenn Kessler and Dana Milbank

Washington Post
June 10, 2004

France and the United States clashed anew over Iraq on Wednesday, jarring the Group of Eight summit that the Bush administration had hoped would bury the diplomatic battles of the past.

Just hours after President Bush expressed hope that NATO could play an expanded role in providing security for Iraq, French President Jacques Chirac emphatically rejected the idea. "I do not think that it is NATO's job to intervene in Iraq," Chirac told reporters in a videoconference from Sea Island, the private resort where the leaders have gathered. "Moreover, I do not have the feeling that it would be either timely or necessarily well understood," said Chirac, adding that he had "strong reservations on this initiative."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a guest at the summit, later echoed Chirac's concern. Asked whether NATO, which includes Turkey as a member, should have a role in Iraq, Erdogan said: "The concept we've been emphasizing is the role of the United Nations."

The dispute hinted at the tensions simmering beneath the surface of the summit. The administration is eager to capitalize on the unanimous passage Tuesday of a U.N. Security Council resolution recognizing the interim Iraqi government, and it has pressed for agreements here on a range of issues, including Bush's signature effort to promote democracy in the Middle East. But officials from other nations said they reluctantly accepted some of the administration's ideas, and then only in watered-down or otherwise revised form.

Bush also failed to win support from the other leaders for writing off the vast majority of Iraq's $120 billion in debt, after France and Germany balked at giving the new Iraqi government a discount of more than 50 percent, officials said. Leaders of the G-8 countries -- which also include Britain, Canada, Italy, Japan and Russia -- met in the relaxed setting of the private island off the coast of Georgia. All the leaders but Chirac were tieless as they arrived at the sessions in golf carts decked in national colors.

The dispute over NATO's role with Iraq came on a day on which the Bush administration had sought to showcase unity over its plans for Iraq and for the region. Bush was host of a lunch for G-8 leaders and the leaders of seven countries from what the G-8 calls the broader Middle East and North Africa -- Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Turkey, Algeria, Afghanistan and Iraq -- to highlight the administration's plans to spread democracy in Islamic countries.

The formal text of the plan, released Wednesday, said the G-8 would create a forum for discussions on reform with leaders of business and civil society in the region, among other initiatives. Leaders of key countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco spurned Bush's lunch invitation. After lunch, Bush held his first meeting with Ghazi Yawar, the new interim Iraqi president. "I really never thought I'd be sitting next to an Iraqi president of a free country a year and a half ago, and here you are," Bush said. Hailing the U.N. Security Council's new resolution on Iraq, an emotional Bush reiterated his intention for a "transfer of full sovereignty" to Iraq, adding: "It's been a proud day for me."

Yawar, in white headdress and brown robe, thanked Americans for "the sacrifices" endured during the war in Iraq and said Iraqis are "determined to have a free, democratic, federal Iraq." He assured Bush that "we are moving in steady steps towards it." Bush had unexpectedly raised the question of a NATO role after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the morning. He said he had discussed NATO's involvement in Iraq over breakfast with Blair, "and we believe NATO ought to be involved." He added that he understood that "there is going to be constraints" and "a lot of NATO countries are not in a position to commit any more troops."

NATO, which operates on consensus, will hold a summit later this month in Istanbul, and a senior administration official briefing reporters on the Bush-Blair session said the two agreed to explore this question in the weeks leading up to the summit. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before Chirac spoke, said the French and Germans have "expressed strong reluctance" about sending troops to Iraq but "they have not been quite as categorical about NATO's role in Iraq."

Sixteen of the 26 NATO members have troops in Iraq; NATO provides some logistical help for a Polish-led division there. But NATO officials have privately said there is little chance for a significantly expanded role anytime soon. NATO has taken over the multilateral force in Afghanistan with great difficulty -- efforts to send six Dutch Apache helicopters to Kabul were stymied until Luxembourg came up with the money, for instance -- and NATO officials said the alliance cannot play a major role in Iraq until it completes its mission in Afghanistan.

Chirac took other opportunities to needle the administration. He said he told Bush and the other leaders about his "concern and thoughts" that the large U.S. budget and trade deficits may hurt currency markets and push up interest rates. He also warned that efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East ran the risk of backfiring. "We must stand ready to help. But we must also take care not to provoke," Chirac said. "For that would be to risk feeding extremism and falling into the fatal trap of the clash of civilizations: precisely what we wish to avoid."

Echoing a common European complaint about the administration's approach, Chirac said the Arab world did not need "missionaries" of democracy. Instead, he said, conflicts such as the long-running struggle between Israelis and Palestinians must be addressed. "The conflicts ravaging the region are today the paramount obstacles to its development," Chirac said. "We must take measure of the resentments and frustrations from one end of the Arab world to the other, fueled by the daily spectacle of violence and humiliation in places so laden with history and symbols."

In addition to the democracy initiative for the Middle East, the G-8 leaders adopted and released a long list of agreements and "action plans," including plans to accelerate global trade negotiations, eliminate poverty through entrepreneurship, provide greater security in international travel and stop the spread of nuclear proliferation.

Administration officials said the proliferation plan was especially significant because it built on a speech earlier this year by Bush and included an agreement to stop the transfer of nuclear reprocessing technology to new nations for a year. But some experts said the plan was relatively modest and had been watered down to win agreement from the other nations. "The administration set overly modest goals and I don't think they achieved those goals," said Robert J. Einhorn, who was a senior nonproliferation official in the Clinton administration.

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