France resists US pressure to conduct Nato training in Iraq

By Stephen Castle in Brussels

28 July 2004

France was last night holding out against US-backed plans for Nato to train Iraq's security forces in that country, as the alliance's senior officials prepared to try to agree on the contentious proposals today.

A dispute over where the training should take place is being seen as a litmus test of Nato's ability to bury its differences and draw a line under the acrimony generated by the US-led war in Iraq.

Paris is resisting US and UK-backed moves for Nato to establish a training operation in Iraq, arguing that this would mark the beginning of an engagement by the alliance there. France says it signed up only to permit Nato collectively to train the Iraqi security forces at centres outside the country, including one in Rome.

The US believes that the French have been deliberately stalling on the issue, and that they have reneged on an agreement made last month. Washington is making it clear that it will be willing to try to use a part of Nato's structures that exclude France if Paris continues to block its aspirations.

Nato's ambassadors had been scheduled to discuss the plans yesterday but their meeting was postponed amid the continuing dispute.

Last night the military committee, on which all 26 allies are represented, was still debating the terms of its advice to the Nato ambassadors, who meet in the North Atlantic Council. It will convene today, and diplomats say discussions will continue through the week if necessary.

A Nato diplomat said: "There is one nation that is opposing it and one or two that have yet to make up their mind, but the bulk want to bring this forward."

Another said the US was pressing too hard for an ambitious plan that would make it clear that Nato was becoming engaged politically in Iraq, and would be better served by a more pragmatic approach.

The alliance last week resolved another acrimonious dispute that had divided the US and France, over Afghanistan. Washington wanted to deploy the Nato Response Force; Paris argued it was created to deal with crises, not predictable events. The compromise was to send an Italian battalion that "is an element of NRF".