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NATO Chief Calls For Dedication In Iraq, Afghanistan --> De Hoop Scheffer wants NATO members to exhibit "a sense of responsibility" (file photo) Brussels, 9 December 2004 -- NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer opened a meeting of the alliance's 26 foreign ministers in Brussels today with a call to boost their commitment in Afghanistan and Iraq.

De Hoop Scheffer said a "heightened commitment from NATO" is needed in the two countries and called on the alliance's 26 member states to show "a sense of responsibility."

The NATO meeting is tackling a series of issues seen as important for the future of the alliance itself -- Iraq and Afghanistan foremost among them. The two-day gathering is also seeking to help heal the rift that has developed between the United States and some of NATO's European members, primarily over the Iraq war.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell signaled Washington's desire to mend relations in a speech to diplomats and students in Brussels on Wednesday:

"I know that some of [President George W. Bush's] key decisions these last four years have been controversial in Europe, especially decisions that were made about Iraq," Powell said. "Whatever our differences about the past and about Iraq, we are now looking forward. We are reaching out to Europe, and we hope that Europe will reach out to us."

U.S. officials say that, at today's discussions, Powell will press European partners to make concrete offers of more help in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Iraq, Washington is seeking European contributions to help train staff for a new military academy planned near Baghdad. Troops to protect the academy are also needed.

In Afghanistan, Washington is seeking to strengthen the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) so that it can patrol more territory west and north of Kabul. The need for that is pressing in view of the Afghan parliamentary elections scheduled for May.

Unprecedented Talks

On another theme, NATO foreign ministers held unprecedented talks yesterday with their counterparts from Israel and six Arab states. The so-called Mediterranean Dialogue states are Israel, Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia.

De Hoop Scheffer told reporters that the meeting centered on practical ways of working together -- for instance, in sharing intelligence on terrorism.

"Everybody realizes that the fight against international terrorism is something we only can do together," de Hoop Scheffer said. "And this was underlined by many interventions. And we have, as I said, to find practical ways to work together also in this field."

On another subject -- Ukraine -- the NATO foreign ministers called off a meeting scheduled for today with their Ukrainian counterpart. The move comes amid growing tensions with Russia, which this week warned Western states against interfering in former Soviet republics.

U.S. Secretary of State Powell yesterday denied interference, saying, "All we ask, all we want -- all we have ever wanted -- is a free, fair, open election so the will of the Ukrainian people can be heard."

De Hoop Scheffer is due to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later in the day. He said today that talk of a Cold War-style standoff with Moscow is exaggerated. But he said NATO will tell Lavrov that the Ukrainian people must have the chance to elect their leader in fair elections.

(RFE/RL/news agencies)

For more on events in Iraq, see RFE/RL's dedicated The New Iraq webpage.

For more RFE/RL coverage and analysis of the political crisis in Ukraine, click here.