NATO's secretary-general was making a last-ditch effort Friday to break a deadlock between France and the United States on how the alliance can fulfill its promise to train the new Iraqi government's security forces. The stumbling block is whether or not the training mission should be linked through the chain of command to the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.
Ambassadors from the 26 NATO nations have been haggling for three days over how to implement a pledge to train Iraqi forces that was made by their presidents and prime ministers at the alliance's Istanbul summit last month.
At first, France, which refuses to send any of its own troops to Iraq, objected to a NATO presence on Iraqi soil. It said individual NATO members should train Iraqis inside Iraq, if they so wish, but, if the alliance as a whole is to be involved in such work, it should conduct the training outside the country.
Now, France appears to have backed away from that position. But it insists that the training mission's commander should not be a U.S. officer and that he should have no ties to the U.S.-led coalition.
The United States argues that the NATO mission in Iraq must be under the wing of the coalition to ensure its safety and protection. It has proposed that the NATO unit be placed under the operational command of the senior U.S. officer in Iraq.
French diplomats have consistently indicated over the past month that their government is concerned about making NATO what one calls a subsidiary of the coalition. France, which fiercely opposed the war in Iraq, is also reluctant to see NATO troops relieve American forces there.
Although most allies support the U.S. position, all decisions at NATO must be made by consensus.
Diplomats say NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has come up with a compromise formula to ensure that the training mission get under way as soon as possible. Earlier this month, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari pleaded with NATO to make good on its pledge to begin training his country's security forces as soon as possible.
An aide to the secretary-general says Mr. De Hoop Scheffer is worried that continuing disagreement among the allies will damage the alliance's credibility. NATO is already under fire for acting too slowly to boost its presence in Afghanistan in the run-up to elections there later this year.
No details of the secretary-general's compromise proposal have emerged, but one diplomat says it would involve postponing the decision on command arrangements until September.