BRUSSELS, DEC. 6 -- Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney told other defense ministers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization today that the United States would welcome additional military support for the effort to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait, according to senior diplomatic officials.
Cheney reportedly said the United States wants help from other NATO members to transport a large contingent of U.S. troops and military equipment to the Persian Gulf by mid-January, the U.N.-established deadline for voluntary withdrawal of Iraqi forces. He and British Defense Minister Tom King also called for added contributions of ammunition, spare parts and medical supplies for the estimated 460,000 U.S. and British troops in or headed for the Persian Gulf, the officials said.
The secretary raised the issue of additional troop deployments by NATO members, the officials added, saying that any nation deciding to send such forces should provide at least a self-sufficient combat brigade, or roughly 5,000 troops. Several countries, including Belgium, responded by saying that "they had under consideration ways in which they might provide additional support," a senior member of the U.S. delegation said.
But other officials said these measures probably would not include additional troops from the 15 nations represented here. France does not participate in the twice-yearly NATO defense planning meetings.
Cheney's statement during a closed session at NATO headquarters came several weeks after key U.S. legislators had accused the Bush administration of organizing an offensive military force in the region that was disproportionately American.
Democratic members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also said this week that the administration was moving too rapidly toward a military conflict with Iraq.
Senior U.S. officials sought to play down both Cheney's request and the lack of an immediate, concrete allied response. They said Cheney brought "no shopping list" to the two-day meeting and did not press individual ministers. One official stressed that the items Cheney discussed had been requested by the commander of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, for "legitimate military reasons, not to satisfy domestic critics."
Cheney "did not come here to go door to door," another U.S. official said, adding that "we are beyond the point of needing to use ministerials" to drum up additional military support for Operation Desert Shield.
King and other ministers said there was no debate here today mirroring the recent U.S. controversy over the administration's reluctance to let economic sanctions alone force Iraq's ouster from Kuwait. "There might have been such a debate if we sensed that the issue was still open for discussion," one minister said on condition that he not be identified. "But the January U.N. deadline is now part of the political situation we have to recognize," and no ally favors any move that might be seen as a U.S. retreat.
At the same time, the ministers differed sharply on the need for a formal NATO role in a military crisis involving friendly states that are not alliance members, such as Kuwait. Representatives from Norway and several other smaller members reportedly said their governments opposed taking military action through the alliance to resolve so-called "out-of-area" problems, while officials from Britian backed formal NATO coordination of such action.
Besides briefing the group on the Persian Gulf operation, Cheney met separately with ministers from Germany, Norway and Denmark to discuss such routine alliance matters as implementation of the new East-West treaty reducing conventional arms in Europe. The ministers also agreed to complete a comprehensive revision of NATO's military strategy by spring.