Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will propose the creation of a new rapid reaction force at a NATO ministers meeting in Warsaw next week.

A senior U.S. defense official said the proposal is for creation of a NATO standing response force, one that would include American, Canadian and European troops and which would be capable of deploying anywhere in the world on as little as one week's notice.

The proposal will be made by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who leaves Washington for Warsaw on Sunday for two-and-a-half days of meetings centered around an informal NATO defense ministers' gathering on Tuesday.

The senior official, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on condition of anonymity, said that if the proposal is endorsed, it will be presented to NATO heads of state at their next summit in Prague in November.

The official said if the idea is approved there, it could take up to two years to create the actual force.

The official added that the rapid response force would not conflict with a planned European reaction force, which the official says is envisaged as more of a peacekeeping unit. The all-NATO response force would be designed for actual war fighting, such as a possible new coalition operation against Iraq.

But the senior U.S. official says that while Iraq is likely to be discussed during Mr. Rumsfeld's Warsaw visit, it is premature to expect him to ask allies for specific military contributions.