Opens on a positive note. Things coming together. AP
Bush seeks wider NATO role in Iraq
SEA ISLAND, Ga. (AP) Â— President Bush, hoping to build on momentum from a U.N. victory on Iraq, said Wednesday he hopes for a wider role for NATO in post-occupation Iraq. But the French immediately voiced reservations.
Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush Wednesday morning.
By Tim Sloan, AFP
Standing alongside British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his top ally in the war in Iraq, Bush said he and Blair discussed NATO's possible role at a breakfast meeting.
"We believe NATO ought to be involved," Bush said about the 15 NATO nations that already have forces in Iraq. "We will work with our NATO friends to at least continue the role that now exists, and hopefully expand it somewhat."
But French President Jacques Chirac, also attending this year's Group of Eight summit of powerful nations, expressed skepticism about an expanded NATO role. "I do not believe it is NATO's purpose to intervene in Iraq," he told reporters. "I have reservations vis-a-vis this initiative."
At the same time, trying to convey a new G-8 atmosphere of compromise, Chirac said, "I'm very much open to debate and discussion" about security for post-occupation Iraq. Chirac said any NATO role could only be justified "if the sovereign Iraqi government were to ask for it."
The United States is hoping that the U.N. resolution vote Tuesday giving Iraq's new leaders some clout over a U.S.-led military force could help heal bitter divisions over the war.
Blair said the next step is to make sure Iraqis can take care of their own security.
"This is a process of change and we have to help people manage it," Blair said. He added, "It's not just about security measures. It's not just about force."
Asked if he wanted to see a larger role for NATO, Bush said, "I think NATO ought to stay involved and I think we have a good chance of getting it done."
Bush did not elaborate, but administration officials said the United States would like to see NATO get involved in training the new Iraqi army, in addition to having NATO members currently in Iraq remain there.
Four of the eight industrialized nations at the economic summit here Â— Russia, France, Germany and Canada Â— have refused to send troops to Iraq and said the U.N. vote had not changed their mind.
And an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity after Bush's meeting with Blair, said the United States understands there are constraints on NATO's possible role given France and Germany's continued hesitation to put troops in Iraq.
A possible future role for NATO in Iraq would depend on requests from the Iraqi government and decisions made by all the allied countries, NATO spokesman James Appathurai told Associated Press Television News on Wednesday.
"It could range from a geographic role Â— taking over a zone Â— to a functional role, such as training," he said. "It is just too early to prejudge and we don't want to rush to judgment."
Bush was touting the U.N. vote on Iraq in a one-on-one meeting with the nation's new interim president, Ghazi al-Yawer.
"I'm going to tell him we're pulling for him," Bush told reporters.
Before that session, Bush greeted Al-Yawer and the leaders from five other Arab countries before an ornate fountain and then posed with them for a group photo with the Atlantic Ocean and swaying palm trees as a backdrop.
Bush drove Blair to their one-on-one meeting at an exclusive resort on this barrier island in a futuristic, electric, golf-cart sized car emblazoned with the red, white and blue colors of the American flag.
The G-8 leaders were talking about topics including a Bush plan to expand the push for democracy throughout the Arab world Â— an initiative that will test the newfound unity.
Eager to get the talks started at the opening session, Bush draped his jacket over the back of his chair and greeted the other leaders with a shouted "welcome" Â— only to be told by aides to pause for a moment until photographers could be ushered from the room.
Bush set a casual tone for the meetings, dressed in a knit shirt. Others wore dress shirts without ties, but Chirac shunned the resort-casual approach altogether, and wore a dark business suit and tie.
The opening session was devoted to economic issues with Bush leading off with a review of the good performance of the U.S. economy.
The threat to economic growth from rising oil prices was expected to come up as well.
The world leaders were meeting over lunch with the leaders of six Middle Eastern nations in a discussion aimed at boosting Bush's initiative to promote freedom, democracy and economic growth throughout the Middle East. Bush hopes the plan will emerge as the central achievement of the summit.
But the plan has stirred deep suspicion in the region, home to some of the world's most authoritarian regimes. Many Arab and European countries view the proposal as unwanted meddling. And three Arab countries Â— Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco Â— turned down Bush's invitation to participate.
The U.S. cause in the Arab world has not been helped by Bush's support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor by the worldwide uproar over the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.
The G-8 was expected to endorse a scaled-down version of the U.S. plan. One European official stressed it left room for countries to choose their own preferred methods to promote reforms. The declaration also does not require specific financial contributions.