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NATO Chief Expresses Readiness for Expanding Iraq Operations

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says the trans-Atlantic alliance may expand its operations in Iraq if a new transitional government there asks it to. The new NATO commander paid his first visit to the White House Friday where he met with President Bush.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer says the leaders discussed the full range of NATO's agenda from peacekeeping in the Balkans to NATO-Russian relations to the approaching induction of seven new member-states.

But much of the talks focused on Afghanistan and Iraq where the White House hopes NATO will play a larger role.

President Bush thanked the alliance for taking command of the multinational security force in Afghanistan and for supporting a Polish-led multinational force in Iraq.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance may play an even larger role in Iraq, but only if that request comes from a new Iraqi government.

"NATO is now supporting the Polish-led multinational division and NATO might take on a greater role when the sovereign Iraqi government would ask NATO to do that," he said.

A decision on NATO's role in Iraq could come at an alliance summit in Turkey in June. The Bush administration says it intends to hand over power in Iraq by July 1.