BRUSSELS (AFP) Jan 26, 2004
NATO’s new chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Monday he favors the alliance playing a role in Iraq, and called for a new UN resolution on a stabilization force for the country.
“If the question comes, it goes without saying that I’m very much in favor of a NATO role,” he told journalists, before adding “it’s too early to say what exactly that role will be.”
He said “a UN resolution would be very helpful indeed” in persuading countries, including Arab countries, to contribute troops to a stabilization force after the United States hands over authority to a provisional Iraqi government in July.
NATO, whose members were deeply divided by war, only provides logistical support to a Polish contingent in Iraq.
“Let’s see what the political developments will be between now and July … what a legitimate government of Iraq will ask,” said Scheffer.
Following recent “good signals” from Berlin, which along with Paris led opposition to the war, Scheffer said he hoped he could “call on all NATO nations to participate” in an Iraq operation.
Scheffer, who replaced George Robertson as NATO chief on January 5, begins his first official visit to the United States on Thursday, and will meet US President George W. Bush on Friday.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell predicted last week that all NATO members, including those who opposed the war, would participate in Iraqi stabilization efforts by the end of the year, noting that 18 of 26 are already present in the country in some capacity.
Scenarios under discussion by diplomats but that have not been formally considered by NATO include the alliance taking command of the Polish contingent or stationing a force in the north of the country.
But Scheffer, a former Dutch defense minister, warned against the alliance becoming distracted from Afghanistan, where it leads the international stabilization force of some 6,000 troops.
“Let’s take things step by step and not let Afghanistan be pushed to the second plan because of Iraq,” he said.