NATO to decide on Iraq troops in June

NATO is likely to decide in June whether or not to take a more robust role in post-war Iraq, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has said.

    Poland has 2500 troops in Iraq

    Speaking on Monday, Kwasniewski said alliance nations are all in favour of

    engaging more NATO forces in Iraq, and a "good moment 

    to make certain decisions on the issue will be

    NATO's summit in Turkey in late June".

    Some diplomats have said NATO could

    gradually take command over the Polish-led multi-national force

    that oversees a "stabilisation zone" in south-central Iraq.

    But new NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said

    it

     should concentrate first on

    its mission on Afghanistan.

    Kwasniewski strongly supported
    the war on Iraq

    Fresh Iraq troops 

    Meanwhile, Poland began sending fresh troops to Iraq on Monday to

    relieve its 2500-strong force deployed last summer

    .

    The United States is pressing NATO to beef up its presence

    in Iraq. The alliance now provides technical and intelligence

    support for the Polish-led force.

    The US-led war to topple Saddam Hussein,

    strongly supported by Poland, has divided NATO, with France and

    Germany opposing the operation.

    Poland joined NATO in 1999 along with two other former

    Soviet bloc countries, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

    New secretary-general

    Earlier on Monday Jaap de Hoop Scheffer took over

    the NATO helm from departing secretary-general George Robertson.

    The former Dutch foreign minister takes over the world's biggest

    military alliance at a turning point in its history, when for the

    first time it has sent forces outside of Europe.

     

    He will have his diplomatic skills tested as he seeks to steer a

    steady course for NATO which was

    almost torn apart by the transatlantic tensions of the Iraq crisis.

    "Relations between the European Union and the United States will

    be one of my prime targets," he said as he arrived at his Brussels

    office.

    Transatlantic tensions

    De Hoop Scheffer (2ndL) is the
    former Dutch foreign minister

    De Hoop Scheffer supported the United States politically

    throughout the Iraq war, without attracting the epithet of

    "America's lapdog" that was launched against Dutch Prime

    Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

    But he also declined to sign the letter of support for the 

    US drawn up by Spain, Italy and several countries in Eastern

    Europe, because he did not wish to create a division

    between Europeans.

    That scored him points in Paris and Berlin, which were strongly

    opposed to the war.

    His predecessor as NATO secretary general, George Robertson,

    oversaw a key phase of the alliance's transformation from a Cold

    War-era bloc to "a global security organisation" in the wake of

    September 11 attacks.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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