France blocking NATO accord on Iraq training

28th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, July 28 (AFP) - NATO envoys failed Wednesday to achieve consensus on how to fulfil a pledge to help train Iraqi security forces, diplomatic sources said.

BRUSSELS, July 28 (AFP) - NATO envoys failed Wednesday to achieve consensus on how to fulfil a pledge to help train Iraqi security forces, diplomatic sources said.

"There is a debate and there is no consensus yet," said an official of the Alliance:

"There is a very clear view around the table to start the mission as soon as possible but you have to get it right."

Diplomats said earlier Wednesday NATO was struggling to agree on how exactly it will fulfil its pledge on training Iraqi security forces, with France in particular blocking consensus.

The official said after the late Wednesday session of NATO ambassadors: "There are issues that still need to be discussed and clarified relating to the arrangements of the training mission."

"There are still many issues to be sorted out," said a NATO diplomat, after the fruitless two-hour evening session. The envoys had already convened for two sessions earlier in the day.

Diplomats said the sticking point is whether the training mission will involve a visible NATO presence on the ground in Iraq, as sought by the US administration.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders agreed to provide such training at a summit in Istanbul last month, but left the details to be hammered out. France notably opposes Alliance training inside Iraq.

"Allies want to reach a consensus on this. Most allies want to do it this week... for a training mission inside Iraq beginning as early as next week," said one diplomat.

"Over 20 allies support this. Two or three were undecided at the beginning of the week, and it was France who is just saying 'no' and by saying 'no' is blocking consensus," he added.

Another diplomat confirmed that the United States, which has long pushed for a bigger NATO role in Iraq where its troops have struggled to contain mounting violence, was pushing hard for an accord.

After a first meeting Wednesday morning, NATO ambassadors agreed to meet again in the evening to continue to discussions, said one NATO official.

Diplomats said the sticking point is whether the training mission will involve a visible NATO presence on the ground in Iraq, as sought by the US administration.

A NATO military delegation led by US admiral Gregory Johnson was dispatched to Iraq at the start of July to study options for the mission.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Monday that he hoped for an agreement by the end of this week on a training mission, both inside and outside Iraq.

Earlier this month Iraq's interim foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, part of the Iraqi administration which took over last month, urged NATO to make good quickly on its promise to train security forces here.

Zebari said authorities were "in a race against the clock" in their effort to assure stability.

Crime has soared in Iraq following the US-led invasion as convicts, freed by Saddam, roam free, creating a deep insecurity as crooks seize ordinary Iraqis for ransom and terror networks behead foreign hostages for political reasons.

Another NATO official denied that the differences were in any way comparable to the splits which shook NATO to its foundations in the run-up to last year's US-led war against Iraq.

In that case France, Germany and Belgium effectively paralyzed the Alliance - which requires unanimity for all decisions - by refusing to allow NATO to come to Turkey's aid.

"NATO is very keen to finalize this package... but don't look for repetitions. History does not repeat itself," he said.

"There is full determination to provide a package as soon as possible on training in and outside of Iraq," he added.

US ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns echoed de Hoop Scheffer's aims earlier this week.

"I agree wholeheartedly with the ... (secretary general) that the alliance should decide this week to establish a NATO training mission in Iraq," he told reporters.

"That is what our leaders decided in Istanbul ... NATO needs to act quickly to give the Iraqi government and people the support they so desperately need," he added.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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