BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed irritation yesterday with six NATO members that have barred their military officers from an alliance-approved program to train Iraqi forces.
While NATO has recruited trainers from the alliance’s Integrated Military Command, firmly opposed to the plan are France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Greece and Luxembourg.
Their defiance involves only a small number of officers. But their stand shows that hard feelings about the war persist within the alliance almost two years after the U.S.-led invasion.
Powell, in Belgium for a NATO foreign ministers conference, discussed the issue with colleagues yesterday.
At a news conference, Powell said the six governments had created a situation that was “quite awkward,” holding back officers assigned to the NATO staff. He said such actions “hurt the credibility and cohesion” of NATO’s international staff organization.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said his country has made it known all along its policy.
“There has been no change of mind. We will send no troops to Iraq,” Fischer said.
NATO approved the training program last June. About 60 NATO personnel are assigned to Iraq and that total is expected to rise to 300. In addition, NATO is committed to the setting up of a military academy near Baghdad for training purposes.
Iraq has been a sore point between the United States and Germany, but the personal relationship between Powell and Fischer has remained strong.
As a retirement gift, Fischer presented Powell with a keg and two cases of beer. Powell recalled that Fischer had once before sent him a case of beer. “I enjoyed it very much,” Powell said, drawing laughter when he said that he turned over the empty containers to Fischer in recognition of his membership in Germany’s Green Party.
Powell’s colleagues gave him two ovations, honoring him for an association with NATO that goes back 40 years.
“We have taken NATO into a new era,” Powell said, according to a transcript provided by the State Department.
He noted the alliance has embarked on its greatest enlargement, become involved in operations far removed from the trans-Atlantic area and taken the offensive against terrorism.
“All of these achievements confirm my optimism about the future of our alliance and our trans-Atlantic relationship,” Powell said. “But we cannot rest on our accomplishments.
“We cannot take our cooperation for granted. We cannot assume that our shared values will overcome all of our disagreements.”
Powell said that during yesterday’s discussions, NATO committed itself to support Afghanistan’s spring parliamentary elections and to expand NATO-led operations into western Afghanistan.
As part of the talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represented his country in a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. In a joint statement, the council appealed to all parties in Ukraine “to continue to avoid the use or instigation of violence, to refrain from intimidation of voters, and to work to ensure a free, fair electoral process that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people.”
Powell said he was pleased that NATO and Russia had found common ground on Ukraine. The alliance’s secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said he was surprised by Russia’s willingness to sign such a statement, given Russian claims of the West’s interference in Ukraine’s election process.
Referring to the statement, Sheffer said, “I can honestly say what I have in front of me I did not expect last night.”