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U.S. Secretary of State Urges NATO To Have a Greater Presence in Iraq

By Christopher Marquis

The New York Times -- BRUSSELS, Belgium

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Thursday urged NATO to consider expanding its activities in Iraq, in the Bush administration’s most pointed appeal for international help since it went to war last spring.

Powell stopped short of making a specific request from NATO, presenting the proposal as an idea that merited discussion. He also called for a “more robust” role for the United Nations in Iraq.

Ministers in the 26-nation security organization -- some of whom staunchly opposed the war that toppled the Iraqi government -- reacted coolly to the proposal, with some suggesting that NATO already has its hands full in nearby Afghanistan. But none of them opposed the idea outright, ministers said.

The exchange, at a regularly scheduled meeting of NATO diplomats, was the sharpest indication yet from the Bush administration that it seeks to share the costs and sacrifices of rebuilding Iraq with international partners, even if that means surrendering a measure of operational control.

Faced with a self-imposed summer deadline to transfer authority to an interim government, U.S. officials also appear eager to confer greater international legitimacy on the effort as they wrestle with political challenges and terror attacks in Iraq.

The administration is testing the waters after a series of devastating attacks on allies who have backed the United States in Iraq, bringing recent casualties to Italy, Britain, Turkey, Spain and Japan. All of those governments have said their support will not waver, though public sentiment is rising against it.

“The United States welcomes a greater NATO role in Iraq’s stabilization,” Powell told his colleagues in a speech on Thursday. “We welcome a more robust United Nations role as well.”

Noting that the United Nations has already approved a resolution to encourage the engagement of multilateral and regional groups to rebuild Iraq, Powell pressed the ministers to prepare for action by next June, when the NATO heads of state meet in Turkey.

“As we prepare for the Istanbul Summit, 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,” he said.

Turning to the United Nations, which drastically scaled back its operations in Iraq after the bombing of its headquarters this fall, Powell said that a new Security Council resolution would not be necessary for the United Nations to claim a prominent role in the reconstruction. In a meeting in his home last month, he prodded Kofi Annan SM ’72, the organization’s secretary-general, to find a way back into the country, Powell said.