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NATO Ready to Help Train Iraqi Security Forces - 2004-06-27

The 26-member NATO alliance has reached a preliminary agreement to help train Iraq's new security forces. The agreement is expected to be approved Monday by NATO leaders, when they open a summit in Istanbul. But, the alliance's most pressing challenge is to ensure that it delivers on pledges it has made to increase security in Afghanistan.

The preliminary agreement to provide training to Iraqis followed hours of negotiations among NATO ambassadors. Details of how the training will be provided have not been revealed, but NATO's secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, says alliance instructors will work both inside and outside Iraq.

Diplomats say there is still a wide gap between the positions of the United States and Britain, which want to see an official NATO presence in Iraq, and those of France and Germany, who oppose such a presence. The diplomats say they expect to have the details worked out so that the training plan can be endorsed by NATO leaders.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer says he is confident that the leaders will give a positive answer to a letter from Iraq's acting prime minister, Iyad Allawi, asking NATO to help train Iraqi forces. But he rejected a reporter's suggestion that training would be only a first step toward greater NATO involvement in Iraq.

"The letter was about training. NATO is not going to answer letters or questions which were not put to NATO," he said.

A NATO training mission in Iraq falls short of earlier U.S. hopes that the alliance would deploy troops to help restore order in the country. France and Germany, opponents of the Iraq War, have refused to send troops there, although 16 of NATO's 26 members have done so.

But Afghanistan, and not Iraq, is the key problem facing NATO's leaders. The alliance has committed itself to gradually increasing its security presence in Afghanistan, but has so far been unable to come up with the resources to do so.

The United Nations, international aid agencies, and Afghan officials all say NATO leaders must reaffirm that the alliance will guarantee security for Afghan elections in September, which are seen as a crucial test for the country's rehabilitation.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer says NATO will fulfill its commitment to send mixed civilian-military reconstruction teams to northern Afghanistan and eventually to the western part of the country.

"NATO will deliver on what we call the first phase, which is having more provincial reconstruction teams in the north, preparing for going west, if I may use that expression, and the electoral support," he said.

As NATO leaders arrive for the summit, Turkish authorities have tightened security, closing off 200 streets in a wide circle around the conference venue and banning oil tankers along the Bosphorus, the strait that separates Istanbul's European and Asian sides.

Tens of thousands of mostly leftist demonstrators, gathered on the Asian side to protest the summit and President Bush's presence in Istanbul.

Meanwhile, Turkey says it will not bend to demands by Iraqi insurgents who took three Turkish workers hostage and threatened to kill them unless Turkish companies stop working with U.S. forces in Iraq.