U.S. officials appearing before Congress have expressed the hope that more support can be obtained from NATO allies for an expanded alliance role in Iraq. The topic is expected to come up for discussion at the organization's summit in two weeks.
The Bush administration has a number of objectives for the NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey at the end of June. However, none are as important as persuading NATO allies to shoulder more of the burden in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The United States has been disappointed with the NATO response so far in Afghanistan and wants allies, particularly Turkey, to play a bigger role, especially after Canadian forces are drawn down.
Robert Bradtke is deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. "To be successful, NATO will need, at Istanbul, to commit more troops and military resources, in perhaps the most difficult collective mission the allies have ever undertaken," he said.
Mr. Bradtke departed from prepared remarks to underscore a position the Bush administration is emphasizing in advance of the NATO summit, namely that the slow response to needs in Afghanistan is not a result of infighting within NATO over the U.S. handling of Iraq. He says NATO leaders will also be "looking more closely" at the role the alliance might play in Iraq.
After the G8 summit in Georgia this month, at which President Bush was unable to make much progress on an expanded NATO role in Iraq, U.S. lawmakers are increasingly wary about White House statements regarding international support.
Afghanistan, where NATO assumed command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) last year, is high on their list of concerns.
The chairman of the House Europe subcommittee, Douglas Bereuter, says the NATO mission in Afghanistan is in danger of failing unless NATO countries act on personnel and equipment shortages.
Ian Brzezinski, deputy assistant secretary of defense for NATO and European Affairs, says Afghanistan will be high on the agenda in Istanbul.
"This is a decision point for the alliance," he added. "It is a matter of political will, and we have much at stake, not only for the credibility of the alliance but also for the progress we initiated and have under way in Afghanistan."
During the hearing, Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler, expressed skepticism about administration efforts to enlarge NATO's role in Iraq.
"I am just curious if the goal of an expanded role of NATO in Iraq is dead?" he asked. "And if it is not dead, what do we realistically expect they [NATO] will be doing as we turn over sovereignty to Iraq?"
Deputy Assistant Secretary Bradtke had this response. "We do not think it is realistic to think there are going to be large numbers of new troops," he noted. "Secretary [Colin] Powell said that over the weekend. What we do want to focus on, just one category, how we can help those countries who are there, stay there? How we can facilitate their efforts in Iraq."
Mr. Bradtke adds that much will depend on what the transitional Iraqi government decides about a NATO role after June 30.
As for Afghanistan, he acknowledges there has not been a lot of progress in getting more NATO support as elections scheduled for September approach.