BRUSSELS, Dec. 9 -- In a fresh sign of lingering tensions over the Iraq war, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Thursday criticized European allies who declined to assist a NATO-led training mission in Iraq as "hurting the credibility and cohesion" of the military alliance.
A half-dozen NATO members have refused to allow their officers assigned to NATO bases to participate in the training operation -- a move that U.S. officials said was without precedent. As the 26-country alliance decided Thursday to expand the operation in Iraq from 60 to 300 people, officials from the non-participating countries, which include France, Germany and Spain, held firm.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, left, speaks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Brussels, where tension eased over Ukraine.
(Geert Vanden Wijngaert -- AP)
"We will send no troops to Iraq," said the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, adding that Germany's position has been clear since NATO decided last June to establish the force. France's foreign minister, Michel Barnier, told reporters, "Given the current security situation, we think it is more efficient and useful if training takes place outside of Iraq."
The French government has offered to train military police in France or a third country but said it had so far received no specific request from the Iraqi government. German instructors are training Iraqi police and troops in the United Arab Emirates.
The transatlantic rift reemerged as U.S. officials were trying to signal a new approach in their dealings with Europe. The White House announced Thursday that Bush would visit NATO headquarters here and meet with European leaders on Feb. 22, in what Powell called an effort to "mend these breaches."
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands had agreed to provide more personnel for the training mission, which is to take place in the heavily fortified area in Baghdad known as the Green Zone. NATO also plans to set up a military academy outside the city but has received no commitments of staff yet.
Germany provides a disproportionate number of the alliance's international command staff members, so its directive to German NATO officers not to go to Iraq could hamper the operation there. Greece, Belgium and Luxembourg have also refused to provide staff in Iraq.
In Brussels for his last series of NATO meetings as secretary of state, Powell noted at a news conference that members of an international staff work and train together.
"When it comes time to perform a mission, it seems to us to be quite awkward for suddenly members in that international staff to say, 'I'm unable to go because of this national caveat or national exception,' " Powell said. "You are hurting the credibility and the cohesion of such an international staff or organization."
Despite the dispute, Powell was warmly cheered by his fellow foreign ministers. Fischer gave Powell a gift of two cases and a keg of German beer, and de Hoop Scheffer gave him Belgian beer and a model of a Volvo, Powell's favorite car.
During Thursday's meetings, ministers tried but failed to get troop commitments for an expansion of NATO's peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan to cover the country's western provinces. NATO officials said they were behind in lining up the additional forces, who are intended to provide security for parliamentary elections in April.
In a sign of easing tensions over the election crisis in Ukraine, NATO's foreign ministers and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met and joined in a statement that called for free and fair elections by the end of the month.
U.S. and NATO officials said the mood at the session with the Russians was unusually good, with Lavrov for the first time not complaining about NATO's dealings with his country. At a European security forum two days earlier in Bulgaria, the Russians had declined to issue a joint statement.
"I can honestly say what I have in front of me I did not expect last night," de Hoop Scheffer said, referring to the statement.
Lavrov appeared in a good spirits at a news conference, praising NATO for easing Russian concerns about the entry of the three Baltic states -- formerly Soviet republics -- into the alliance. But he repeated charges of Western interference in last month's election in Ukraine.
Lavrov charged that Freedom House and other U.S.-funded nongovernment organizations had helped provoke "gross violations" of Ukrainian law. U.S. officials have said Russia provided financing and other assistance to the Moscow-backed candidate, whose victory was overturned by a Ukrainian Supreme Court ruling.
"In geopolitical terms, Ukraine simply cannot be only Western or only Eastern," Lavrov said. "It is not up to us to induce Ukraine to make one choice or the other."