U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has called on NATO to take on a greater role in the post-war stabilization of Iraq. His call came during a closed-door meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels which is also discussing expanding the alliance's presence in Afghanistan.

In remarks prepared for delivery to his colleagues, Mr. Powell urged the alliance to play a more prominent role in stabilizing Iraq. He says every NATO leader has acknowledged that peace and stability in the war-torn country is critical for the alliance.

The 19-member alliance is already involved in Iraq in an indirect way. It provides logistical support to a Polish-led multinational division operating in central Iraq.

Poland, Spain and Italy have suggested that the alliance could take over the multinational division next year. But no decisions on a bigger NATO role in Iraq are expected anytime soon.

In his speech opening the meeting, NATO Secretary General George Robertson echoed Mr. Powell's call for a wider alliance role in Iraq.

"The alliance must continue to help NATO countries who take on leadership roles in Iraq and prepare itself to take on new roles and missions where necessary," he said.

France and Germany - which opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq - want the United Nations to have an oversight role in Iraq before they agree to any NATO involvement there. And NATO decisions must be made by consensus.

Mr. Robertson announced a breakthrough in his efforts to bolster the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, saying members had agreed to plug gaps in equipment the force needs to expand from Kabul, the capital, into the interior so it can provide security during scheduled elections next year.

Mr. Robertson had been warning that the alliance would lose credibility if members failed to supply the so-called international security assistance force, or I-SAF, with such assets as helicopters.

"But NATO does not fail. I am delighted to be able to announce this morning that we have now filled the critical parts of what NATO needs in Kabul in I-SAF," he said.

NATO officials say Turkey offered three helicopters and the Netherlands four in addition to three German helicopters already in Afghanistan that Berlin has put at the alliance's disposal.

Also on the agenda is a contentious European Union plan to set up its own military planning unit independent of NATO. Mr. Powell, in his prepared remarks, says the United States cannot accept independent EU structures that duplicate existing NATO capabilities.