Bush Drops Hopes for NATO Troops in Iraq
France, Turkey Rebuff President
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2004; Page A06
SAVANNAH, Ga., June 10 -- President Bush said Thursday that he did not expect NATO to provide troops to Iraq, abandoning hope for such help after partners in the alliance raised objections.
In a news conference ending the three-day Group of Eight meeting of industrialized nations, which Bush hosted in Sea Island, Ga., the president said his only hope for the military alliance would be for help in training Iraqi troops if the new interim government requests it. "I don't expect more troops from NATO to be offered up," he said. "That's an unrealistic expectation. Nobody is suggesting that."
Administration officials had been hoping that passage Tuesday of the U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing U.S. plans for Iraq would make it easier to recruit more international funds and manpower. Bush said Wednesday that "NATO ought to be involved" in Iraq -- a contention quickly rebutted by French President Jacques Chirac and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Although Bush did not specify the cooperation sought, White House press secretary Scott McClellan, asked twice in recent weeks about a large military mission for NATO in Iraq, did not discourage the notion, saying "those discussions are really just getting underway."
Bush met jointly and individually with world leaders. The G-8 chiefs, joined by heads of government from several African and Muslim nations, agreed to cooperate on a broad range of issues, from democratic reforms in the Middle East to development of an AIDS vaccine.
But the meeting was dominated by Iraq and the Bush administration's efforts to secure more international help for the interim Iraqi government. Bush's hopes of winning NATO involvement, foreign troops and debt relief for Iraq were thwarted at various points this week by France, Germany and Turkey.
"We understand that the Iraqi people need help to defend themselves, to rebuild their country, and, most importantly, to hold elections," Bush said Thursday morning after a meeting with Chirac.
But other leaders here for the G-8 were doubtful about prospects for Iraq. "The resolution is a political basis, is an attempt, to improve the chances of stabilizing," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told reporters. "Whether that attempt can succeed is an open question. I am not optimistic about this."
Later at the afternoon news conference, Bush said that "the nations of the G-8 are united in the desire to bring stability and democracy to Iraq." But asked where he expects foreign assistance to come from in terms of debt relief and troops, Bush did not provide specifics. "That resolution just got passed," he said. "We're waiting for the Iraqi government to assess the situation and make requests to the free world."
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Iraq's interim president, Ghazi Yawar, said he would welcome NATO involvement in Iraq, "especially if it includes the European community." He said, however, that "we do not want to have a variety of small numbers of forces which will look like a carnival."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair quickly echoed Bush's statement that NATO troops would not be sought. In a news conference, he said there has "never been anticipation NATO troops will go in there in the same way coalition troops have been in there." Schroeder said Thursday that his country would not send troops to Iraq, but he said Germany would not block NATO from making a decision to play some role.
After Bush's suggestion that NATO could offer training, Chirac said he has seen no such proposals and "I have no specific thoughts."
Administration officials said the week's most significant development was the G-8 endorsement of Bush's plan to spread democratic reforms throughout the Middle East. "The nations of the G-8 recognize our special responsibility to help the people of the Middle East achieve the progress they seek," Bush said Thursday.
Asked about the unwillingness of countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt to come to Sea Island to participate in the initiative's rollout, Bush said, "I understand that there's a certain nervousness about whether or not people can adapt to institutions of freedom."
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