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Europe

NATO Seeks Consensus on Iraq

NATO ambassadors have so far failed to reach a consensus on the training of Iraqi security forces. With critical differences between Washington and Paris, the talks have enter a third day on Thursday.

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The US wants NATO to help train Iraqi police

The ambassadors emerged from Wednesday's talks without results, but armed with a determination to find a compromise.

"It's not over, there will be another meeting tomorrow morning," one official told the Reuters news agency. "There is a debate and there is no consensus yet," he said.

How quickly a deal can be reached, is largely dependent upon France, which some officials have accused of trying to stall the training operation, which NATO hopes to launch in Iraq with an advance party next month.

When diplomats meeting at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Turkey last month agreed to provide training for Iraqi security forces both France and Germany expressed their opposition to staging the operation inside Iraq.

Jacques Chirac kündigt Referendum über EU-Verfassung an

French President Jacques Chirac has been a thorn in the White House's side

On the eve of the June summit, French President Jacques Chirac (photo) expressed his view that any training done with Iraqi security forces should be done bilaterally by individual countries and not under the alliance's flag. Chirac has also vehemently opposed the establishment of any NATO representation in Baghdad.

"Any NATO footprint on Iraqi soil would be unwise," he said. French officials have said that sending NATO to Iraq could entangle French soldiers in the conflict or, worse, undermine the new Iraqi government's credibility and sovereignty.

At the time, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder supported that position, reiterating his view that no Bundeswehr troops would be sent to Iraq. "We are of course willing to participate in the training of Iraqi troops if the Iraqi government wants that," he said. "But this has to take place in training centers in Germany because we stick to our position that no German troops will be sent to Iraq."

Bad memories resurface

Though Berlin has since said it would not stand in the way of a consensus, it has refused to allow Bundeswehr soldiers to set foot on Iraqi soil. And Paris still isn't budging. "France's position has not changed," a foreign ministry spokeswoman in Paris said Wednesday, according to Reuters.

This view has once again put Paris at loggerheads with Washington, where a major NATO mission in Iraq could help boost the image of President George W. Bush, who has been widely criticized abroad for his unilateralist moves in the lead up to the Iraq war and the roller coaster diplomacy that followed the invasion and occupation. Though France and the United States have sought to smooth over transatlantic tensions over the Iraq war in recent months, Chirac has remained particularly adamant about the NATO issue.

Critics of the French President suggest his tough stance on the issue of training Iraqi security forces is a further attempt to restrict U.S. influence. They maintain he is reluctant to endorse any element of Bush's Iraq policy which could help him into a second term in the presidential elections later this year.

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