Powell: NATO to have wider involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is calling on NATO to take on a greater role in post-war Iraq.

IRAQ In prepared remarks released ahead of a speech to NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, Mr. Powell urges the 19-nation alliance to examine what it can do to support peace and stability in Iraq. He says peace and stability in the war-torn country are critical to all NATO member nations.

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson told: “The alliance must continue to help NATO countries who take on leadership roles in Iraq, and prepare itself to take on new roles and missions where necessary”.

Iraq is one of the main issues expected to be discussed during two days of talks, which began Thursday.

AFGHANISTAN NATO has also struggled to maintain a sufficient number of peacekeepers in Afghanistan, despite plans to expand its mission there. Robertson announced a breakthrough in efforts to beef up NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, after nations agreed to fill gaps in the alliance’s Kabul force. Officials said Turkey and the Netherlands had agreed to deploy urgently needed helicopters to the 5,700-strong force.

The decision should allow NATO to push ahead with plans to expand the peacekeeping operation from the capital into several provincial cities, as requested by the United Nations and Afghan authorities.

EU MILITARY INITIATIVES There will also be talks on the European Union's proposal to set up its own military planning group.

Today’s meeting in Brussels was also expected to see European allies seek to end seven months of haggling over the European Union’s plans to develop its own defence arm as they meet with US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

On Iraq, ministers stressed there would be no decision yet on a wider role. Diplomats said France and Germany – which opposed the US-led war in Iraq – would want a stronger UN role overseeing the military operation before they authorised greater NATO involvement.

EU foreign ministers tentatively agreed plans last weekend to strengthen the Union’s ability to run military missions independently of NATO.

Under pressure from Britain, the EU modified a French and German plan to create a separate EU military headquarters that Washington rejected as a threat to NATO unity.

The new plan would set up an EU planning cell at NATO’s military headquarters in southern Belgium, emphasising links between the organisations. It would also add staff to an existing EU military staff in Brussels to help coordinate operations where NATO was not involved.

Washington has expressed concern that a proposed independent EU military planning unit would duplicate NATO's efforts. But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said this week he was confident the EU would come up with a defense plan that would not compete with the alliance.

[Information by PA News, AFP and Reuters]

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