Rumsfeld to seek halt to interference with NATO
In visit to France, to press nations for cooperation
WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is traveling to France this week, will press NATO countries to reduce political interference in the alliance's military operations, a US defense official said yesterday.
US officials contend that unilateral actions by member countries have hampered NATO efforts in Iraq and Kosovo.
In some cases, the political leaders of individual NATO countries have ordered their officers and soldiers, assigned to NATO units and headquarters, not to take part in operations carried out by NATO as a whole.
Rumsfeld will make his case to eliminate these ''national caveats" on the use of alliance forces at a NATO defense minister's meeting in Nice, a senior US defense official said yesterday, discussing the upcoming conference on the condition of anonymity.
Five NATO members have told their military personnel assigned to NATO staff positions to either not go to Iraq or not take part in any work involving the NATO mission in Iraq, set up to assist in training Iraqi security forces, the official said.
The official did not identify the countries, but Germany, France, Belgium, Greece, and Spain have previously announced they will not take part in the mission.
NATO has about 80 soldiers in Baghdad for the mission, a number that is expected to grow to 300 or more. Several members have offered soldiers at the meeting of foreign ministers, including Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands. Other countries have offered equipment or money, or to run training programs outside of Iraq.
Another example of national interference in NATO, according to the official, occurred in March when some countries did not allow their troops, serving as NATO peacekeepers in the former Yugoslav republic of Kosovo, to move into certain areas to help in riot control.
The violence, the worst since the end of the 1998-1999 war, came as mobs of ethnic Albanians targeted Serbs and other minorities in a two-day rampage in mid-March, triggered by the deaths of two children allegedly chased into a river by Serbs.
The violence left 19 people dead and 900 injured; 4,000 people, mostly Serbs, were displaced; and at least 600 homes and Orthodox Christian churches were burned.
About 18,000 NATO-led peacekeepers are in the province working alongside about 10,000 UN and local police officers.
The senior defense official said some fixes had already been implemented in case violence flared up again in Kosovo.
In Nice, Rumsfeld and his foreign counterparts also will discuss the alliance's efforts in Afghanistan, where 8,300 NATO troops are taking part in peacekeeping and reconstruction there. France is to hand over leadership of the force to Turkey this month.
The defense secretary also will meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who will be in Nice for parallel Russia-NATO meetings.
Rumsfeld was to travel to France today. It remained unclear whether he also will go to Germany later in the week for the annual European security conference in Munich.
As part of her ongoing tour of Europe and the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Turkey to seek improved US relations with that NATO ally. Anti-American sentiments have been strong in Turkey since the start of the war in neighboring Iraq.
In a speech in Paris today, Rice was expected to call on European leaders to mend their partnership, emphasizing what she sees as the ''shared values" of the West. France has been a strenuous critic of the US-led war in Iraq.
Rice is seeking backing from European leaders for the US campaign to spread democracy worldwide.
Material from Reuters was included in this report.