Meanwhile, many delegates and observers remained stunned over Monday’s handover in Iraq, announced at the NATO summit two days ahead of schedule by the Iraqi interim foreign minister.
At the same time, despite disagreement among the NATO allies ahead of the two-day Istanbul meeting, a formula was found that allowed the summit’s declarations to be set down some time before its conclusion on Tuesday.
“We have had a good morning,” a NATO official told reporters at a briefing this afternoon. Three documents have been agreed, covering issues as varied as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and NATO’s relations with the Middle East.
“NATO is expanding to cover northern Afghanistan,” the official continued, with its existing 6500-strong force in the country growing to “up to 10,000 troops in the election period”.
“NATO is expanding
In addition, heavy lift aircraft and more helicopters are to be deployed, with extra troop contingents coming from the UK, Norway, Finland and Germany, among others.
Meanwhile, the NATO allies also agreed a statement on Iraq. At present, the alliance only provides logistical support for the Polish contingent in the country. The US and UK have been pressuring the alliance to take on a more significant role, and had advanced the idea that NATO forces might train Iraqi security.
However, France in particular had objected to any such scheme taking on a NATO flag.
“Certain NATO countries have already made clear they do not wish to participate in training in Iraq,” said the NATO official.
“The agreement we reached allows for training outside Iraq, and a formal NATO presence in Iraq is also possible.”
The NATO operation in Bosnia
How this will work in practice is still unclear. With French objections to the NATO banner being used in the country, the official said: “We haven’t had a discussion yet of what patch they will be wearing on their shoulders. All options are open.”
Meanwhile, there was the announcement that the NATO operation in Bosnia Herzegovina will be ending. The Stabilisation Force (SFOR) will formally hand over to a European Union force later this year, ending an eight-year deployment.
This will also mean that the US forces currently involved in SFOR will be withdrawing. In contrast, NATO also confirmed a continuing role in Kosovo, where its Kosovo Stabilisation Force (KFOR) has been deployed since 1999.
‘War on terror’
The NATO heads of state also agreed to expand their cooperation in the “war on terror”. Work on providing sophisticated anti-missile devices for aircraft and a range of other hi-tech projects will continue, as will pressure on Albania, Macedonia and Croatia to continue with reforms on the path to future NATO membership.
The summit sees the release of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, an as yet vague proposal to boost dialogue with the countries of the Middle East.
However, while there has been “a broad positive response” from governments in the region, the NATO official said, there are no specific details on this.
Outside the conference, there was quite different picture from. The morning saw demonstrators protesting against the summit, the war in Iraq and US President George Bush’s presence in Istanbul in a pitched battle with Turkish riot police.
The city districts of Okmeydani and Meciyedikoy saw cars overturned and barrages of tear gas fired as protesters attempted to break through police lines and reach the conference centre.
Cars in some districts were
“About 200 people have been placed in detention by the police following this,” said Hurriyet Sener of the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD) Istanbul branch. “As for the injured, we don’t know exactly, but so far 30 cases have been reported to us, mostly injured by rubber bullets, gas bombs, pepper gas and batoning.”
However, Istanbul police downplayed the size of the events.
“Marbles and stones fired from catapults injured 26 police, while 13 protesters were detained,” city security chief Celalettin Cerrah said. Human rights groups put the number of demonstrators at 2000.
Environmental group Greenpeace also held a protest, suspending a 30m banner from the first of Istanbul’s intercontinental bridges, which declared “Nukes out of NATO”.
Elsewhere, the surprise announcement by Iraqi interim government Foreign Minister Hushiar Zibari at the summit that the occupation was handing over to the interim Iraqi government two days early also drew a mixed response from delegates.
“President Bush did inform his allies early on that this was taking place,” said the NATO official, after earlier stating that he had “informed his colleagues this morning”.