NATO countries will set aside their objections and agree Monday to provide emergency military training for the interim government of Iraq, White House officials said Sunday.
Two weeks ago, President Jacques Chirac of France warned against "any meddling by NATO in this region." But responding to a request from Ayad Allawi, the prime minister of the interim Iraqi government that will assume political authority Wednesday, negotiators for the 26 NATO countries have agreed to give the alliance a direct role in providing military training and said they would call on members to increase their support for the new government.
Details of the agreement, including who will be trained, where and when, still must be worked out by the governments, officials said. But the White House described the move as giving President Bush the international imprimatur he had long sought for post-invasion operations.
Bush and the other leaders of NATO countries are scheduled to finalize the tentative training agreement Monday at the start of a two-day summit in the largest city in Turkey, which borders Iraq. Faced with a wave of bombings and more than 40,000 anti-Bush demonstrators, Turkish officials deployed warships outside waterfront hotels and 23,000 police and soldiers to protect the 3,000 government officials and more than 20,000 journalists attending the summit.
The White House views the agreement on training for Iraq, which follows NATO's decision to take over an international security force in Afghanistan, as a crucial step in its effort to guide the alliance away from its historic emphasis on the defense of its own territory and instead toward taking the offensive against terrorism around the world.
Bush, appearing with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said the United States was "hoping to change the mission of NATO so it meets the threats of the 21st century, and we're going to work together to help make sure NATO is configured militarily to meet the threats of the 21st century, as well."
Bush plans to use the centerpiece address of his five-day overseas trip to hold up the secular democracy in Turkey, NATO's only majority-Muslim member, as a model for Iraq and the greater Middle East. Bush tried to make the same point by holding a meeting today with Turkish religious leaders that included a rabbi, an Islamic cleric and an Armenian Orthodox patriarch.
Before Allawi sent the letter, the White House received private assurances from NATO members that his request would be granted, according to aides traveling with Bush. The administration has had to dramatically lower its sights, however. Earlier this month, Bush sought foreign troops, NATO involvement and debt relief for Iraq at a meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations in Sea Island, Ga., but was rebuffed at various times by France, Germany and Turkey.
Diplomats said that to win the endorsement of Germany and France, the agreement allows for the possibility that some of the training will take place outside Iraq. At the insistence of the Bush administration, the operation will be a formal NATO mission rather than a project of individual countries.
James Appathurai, the NATO spokesman, said in a telephone interview that alliance ambassadors reached the initial agreement "without any sort of dramatic debate" because they "share a common view that we should assist Iraq as much and as quickly as possible so that it can provide for its own security and so that coalition forces will not be required."
Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said from the Turkish capital Ankara on "Fox News Sunday" that "NATO will urge that this all happen on a very urgent basis, that this isn't a long planning exercise, that really they're in a phase of looking to quick implementation of these plans."
Bush said Saturday during a news conference in Ireland that a functioning Iraqi police force and military was his most important criterion for determining that the U.S. mission in Iraq was complete, and he suggested that robust NATO support would mean U.S. troops could come home sooner.
Bush, who had to change his deployment plans before the war when the Turkish parliament voted against allowing the use of its bases for a northern front, appeared Sunday with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said he appreciated "so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Muslim country and, at the same time, a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, also in Istanbul, met Sunday with the foreign and defense ministers of Iraq's interim government.
Bush shook his head and replied "no" when asked whether the capture of three Turkish hostages by militants in Iraq had cast a pall over the summit. Bush did not speak at length about the hostage-taking, because of what aides called a desire to avoid encouraging the kidnappers. But a senior administration official who briefed reporters said Bush expressed sympathy to Turkish officials and "made clear that this episode demonstrates the kind of an enemy we are fighting, a totalitarian enemy which terrorizes and seeks to export chaos to the world, as well as chaos in Iraq."
Rumsfeld compared the recent attacks in Iraq to the Tet offensive of 1968, a turning point in American public opinion about the Vietnam War, when the Vietnamese communists seized cities throughout South Vietnam. He told ABC that the insurgents had clearly studied "the idea that if you go out and kill a lot of innocent people, even though militarily you achieve nothing, the psychological effect through the television, through newspapers is that they're there, that they're noisy, that they're achieving something big -- which is what the effect of Tet was."