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More NATO Countries Offer to Help Train Iraq Forces

Senior Bush administration officials say more NATO countries are coming forward with offers to join an alliance program to train Iraqi security forces.

A number of NATO member states had been reluctant to join in the training program. But U.S. officials say attitudes appear to be changing in the wake of the massive turnout for Iraqi elections January 30.

Secretary of State Rice, after a working lunch with fellow NATO foreign ministers, described the meeting as the best discussion of Iraq the alliance has had since the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

At a news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Ms. Rice said several thus far uncommitted alliance members came forward with offers to join the training effort. "I can say with gratitude to colleagues around the table that there were a number of countries that immediately agreed to contribute, and a number of others said that they would intend to contribute because everyone understands the importance of training the Iraqi security forces so that the Iraqis are capable of taking on their own security tasks, something that they're not yet capable of doing," she said.

A senior State Department official said six or seven NATO countries offered to provide direct assistance in training Iraqi security forces to fight the insurgency.

He said another six said they were considering making a contribution, either to train soldiers in Iraq or outside that country, or to contribute to a special trust fund set up to finance such projects.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said he thinks the 26-member alliance had turned the corner on the Iraq issue since the watershed elections for an Iraqi national assembly.

He said his goal is to have all 26 NATO countries contributing to the training mission by the time President Bush visits alliance headquarters in Brussels for a summit meeting February 22.

The NATO chief said the current goal is to turn out one thousand NATO-trained Iraqi security officers a year but indicated that target might be increased.

NATO has to date deployed about 80 of a planned staff of 300 officers to a training center being set up near Baghdad.

Secretary of State Rice is expected to discuss Iraq again when she meets the European Union's top leaders here Thursday as she wraps up an eight-day mission to Europe and the Middle East.