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Powell accuses Europeans of hurting NATO alliance


BRUSSELS, Belgium - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell accused France, Germany and four other European allies yesterday of "hurting the credibility and cohesion" of NATO by refusing to allow their soldiers to go to Iraq to help train the new Iraqi army.

The dispute illustrated how differences over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq continue to vex trans-Atlantic relations even as President Bush tries to mend fences.

Powell, on his final visit to Europe as the top U.S. diplomat, announced that Bush would include a Feb. 22 stop in Brussels for talks with NATO and European leaders as part of the first overseas tour of his new term.

The 26 NATO foreign ministers, meeting as the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's top political body, agreed to increase the number of instructors and support staff to train the new Iraqi army from 60 to about 300.

NATO personnel are helping organize the Iraqi Defense Ministry and army general staff in the Green Zone, the tightly guarded compound in Baghdad where the interim Iraqi government, the U.S.-led coalition military command and foreign embassies are located.

The alliance also is training Iraqi officers outside Iraq and plans to set up a new military academy outside Baghdad.

But political fallout from the U.S.-led invasion has dogged the effort. France and Germany have been joined by Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg and Spain in barring their soldiers assigned to NATO's military staff from participating in the mission in Iraq.

Powell said soldiers assigned to NATO's military staff technically remain subject to the authority of their governments. But he said it was unprecedented for NATO members who vote to authorize a mission - as the six countries did earlier this year - to then prohibit their NATO-assigned soldiers from supporting that operation.

"When it comes time to perform a mission, it seems to be quite awkward for suddenly members in that international staff to say, 'I'm unable to go because of this national caveat or national exception,'" he said.

The Bush administration has been pressing NATO to expand its role in Iraq, arguing that preventing the country from sliding further into chaos and bloodshed is critical to Middle East stability and international security.

Powell said he was confident that other countries would provide enough soldiers for the training operation.

But a senior NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the six countries' refusals to allow their soldiers to go to Iraq was putting stress on staffs at NATO operational centers in Europe and the United States.

"It's been hard getting nations to come up with people," he said. "We are drawing from a very small pool of people."

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