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US Wants to Eliminate Restrictions on NATO Operations

A senior U.S. official says Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will press NATO allies at a defense ministers meeting in France Wednesday and Thursday to remove restrictions some have on participation by their soldiers in alliance military operations. The official says the restrictions have hurt NATO's training program in Iraq and also affected its operations in Kosovo.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said five NATO member states have refused to allow their officers working under the NATO flag to operate in Iraq, or in some cases even to participate in planning Iraq operations like the training of the security forces.

He said in the past, NATO countries allowed their officers stationed at NATO headquarters to support operations that the individual countries opposed, even when they refused to send troops to those operations. But the official said with the Iraq war, which was strongly opposed by some NATO members, that has changed. He said this situation "must be fixed."

The official would not name the countries that have ordered their officers not to participate in any Iraq-related activity. But NATO officials have said in the past that Germany, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece have taken that approach. Other NATO nations, notably Poland and Hungary, have joined the U.S.-led coalition.

But even some NATO countries that did not join the coalition have agreed to participate in efforts to train Iraq's new security forces, some by sending trainers into Iraq, some helping only outside the country and some by just contributing money or equipment. The official who spoke Monday says the United States expects more cooperation in the training program now that Iraq has successfully held its first national election.

The alliance is committed to helping with the training of Iraqi forces. And the senior official says all NATO officers, regardless of their nationality, should be required to participate in all NATO programs. She says the NATO positions are eagerly sought by member states, and once they are granted the officers ought to, in her words, "do their job."

She said the restrictions also hurt NATO's peacekeeping operation in Kosovo during ethnic rioting last year, when soldiers and officers from some countries were not allowed to do riot control, and others were not allowed to leave their sectors to respond to the crisis.

The issue of participation by NATO officers in all its activities will be just one of many issues Secretary Rumsfeld will discuss with his fellow defense ministers in France on Wednesday and Thursday. They will also meet with the Russian defense minister to discuss cooperation in the war on terrorism and other issues.

The official who spoke Monday said Mr. Rumsfeld's trip, the current European trip by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush's planned trip to the continent later this month reflect the president's desire to work more closely with NATO in addressing international crises, and in her words, to make NATO "more usable."