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NATO Postpones Decision on Role in Possible Conflict with Iraq - 2003-01-29

France and Germany have again delayed planning for a possible NATO role in the event of a war with Iraq. The action comes amid European concerns about undercutting diplomatic efforts to avoid a conflict.

The United States wants NATO to prepare to send planes and missiles to protect Turkey from a possible Iraqi counter-attack, to step up naval patrols in the Mediterranean, and to fill in for American troops shifted from the Balkans.

Officials say the proposals were not even discussed at Wednesday's meeting of NATO's policy-making North Atlantic Council and the allies also failed to agree in earlier private talks Tuesday.

France and Germany, supported by Belgium and Luxembourg, say going ahead with military planning now could hurt moves by the United Nations to peacefully disarm Iraq. Germany and the others first delayed the decision last week.

However, NATO officials say the decision could come after Secretary of State Colin Powell presents intelligence about Iraqi weapons programs to the U.N. Security Council on February 5. NATO says this is only a dispute over timing, not substance.

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson says he has urged the allies to be ready to help Turkey, which is the only NATO member that borders Iraq and a potential basing area for American forces.

U.S. officials say they had hoped NATO would shift its position following Monday's report by U.N. weapons inspectors, that was very critical of Iraq for not fully cooperating. However, there were differences among the allies, which analysts say reflect strong public opposition to war in parts of Europe.