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."
The G-8 leaders also agreed Thursday to extend for two years a program offering debt relief to the world's most impoverished nations. They instructed their finance ministers to "consider measures that can further help the poorest countries address the sustainability of their debt," with a report due by year end.
That fell well short of a more dramatic debt relief plan that some British and U.S. Treasury officials were reported to be considering earlier this week. That plan, which would give a 100 percent write-off of debt for the countries qualifying, has encountered skepticism from the White House and other quarters.
"We are disappointed, although they left the door open to progress by the end of this year," said Jamie Drummond, executive director of Data, a group founded by the rock star Bono to promote aid and other support for Africa.
Chirac called for more extensive aid to developing countries. He said there should be $50 billion of such aid by 2015 and said "the private sector is not a replacement" for such aid. Chirac said this notion was supported by some G-8 leaders and "strongly rejected" by others, an apparent reference to Bush.
In their private meeting, Chirac and Bush discussed their differences over NATO and development aid, and Chirac pressed Bush to take a more aggressive position on global warming. The two did not discuss another area of contention, Iraqi debt relief; Chirac opposes relief of more than 50 percent and the Bush administration wants the "vast majority" forgiven.
Facing reporters after the private meeting, Bush jiggled his leg and appeared impatient with Chirac after their numerous public clashes in the past week. But Bush and Chirac broke the tension when discussing food.
"This cuisine here in America was certainly on par with French cuisine," Chirac said.
"He particularly liked the cheeseburger he had yesterday," remarked Bush, who chuckled as soon as he heard the word "cuisine."
"It was excellent," agreed the Frenchman, making an "okay" sign.
Staff writers Paul Blustein and Dafna Linzer in Washington and Glenn Kessler in Georgia contributed to this report.