Secretary of State Colin Powell has called on NATO to take on a greater role in Iraq to help stabilize the country. But Mr. Powell acknowledged that the alliance has more pressing matters at hand, such as expanding its peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan.
Mr. Powell called on NATO to play a more prominent role in bringing peace and stability to Iraq after a war there that deeply divided the 19-member Atlantic Alliance.
He made his pitch in a speech at the beginning of a two-day NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels, which also discussed the alliance's role in Afghanistan and a controversial European Union plan to run its own military operations independent of NATO.
Mr. Powell later told reporters that he had received a positive response to his suggestion that NATO consider playing a wider role in stabilizing Iraq, where U.S. costs and casualties are mounting.
"Not a single member spoke against it or talked about reasons not to do it," he said. "The question really was should we not, in the interim, in the immediate near-term, focus on Afghanistan and think about what we might be able to do in Iraq in the coming months and sometime, perhaps, next year."
Mr. Powell said that neither France nor Germany - strong opponents of the Iraq war - had thrown cold water on his proposal. But diplomats at NATO headquarters say both countries insist that they will not vote for an enhanced NATO presence in Iraq unless the alliance operates independently from the U.S.-installed occupying authority now running the country.
NATO's role in Iraq at present is limited to giving logistical support to a Polish-led multinational division operating in south-central Iraq. But Poland, Spain and Italy have suggested that NATO could take over that unit by next year.
Mr. Powell also signaled that he would eventually like to see NATO taking over all military operations in Afghanistan. NATO's peacekeeping mission there is separate from a U.S.-led force that is still hunting for remnants of al-Qaida and the former Taleban regime.
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson announced that the alliance had succeeded in filling key gaps in equipment needed to enable its peacekeeping force to expand its operations outside of Kabul and into the hinterland. But he is continuing to put pressure on the allies to supply more personnel.
Mr. Robertson also played down concerns within NATO that the EU's still unfinished plan to create its own defense wing would result in competition with NATO and thus undermine the alliance.
"I'm confident that the end result will avoid any unnecessary duplication and will strengthen both NATO and the EU," he said. "I am confident in that way because any other outcome would be senseless for both organizations and for their member states."
Mr. Powell, too, said Washington would not accept independent EU military structures that duplicate NATO capabilities.
The secretary of state confirmed that he will meet on Friday with the authors of a private Middle East peace plan known as the Geneva Accord, despite Israeli misgivings.