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NATO Approves Iraq Role, Afghan Expansion

De Hoop Scheffer: Shaping 'the new NATO' (file photo) 28 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The leaders of the 26 NATO member states opened the alliance's 17th summit in Istanbul today with Iraqi and Afghan security high on the agenda.

The two-day summit is the first since NATO's latest enlargement in April, and violence was reported as Turkish police clashed with some of an estimated 2,000 demonstrators near the conference hall where the meeting is taking place.

Among the first orders of business were the military alliance's continuing efforts in Afghanistan and a possible NATO role in training security forces under the fledgling Iraqi interim government, which in a surprise development this morning assumed sovereignty from the U.S.-led coalition two days before the 30 June deadline. [For more on Iraq, click here]

Within hours of the handover in Baghdad NATO member states agreed to offer training to the security forces of Iraq's new interim government.

NATO also said in a communique that alliance leaders agreed to expand the stabilization force in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in his opening remarks that the summit will strengthen the trans-Atlantic link between Europe and the United States, as well as equip the alliance for its changing roles.

"Our decisions here today will give further shape and substance to the new NATO and ensure that it can play its new roles to the full. They will ensure that NATO has the political and military tools available to continue to shape international security for the better, and that our means will continue to match our missions," de Hoop Scheffer said.

The summit is also expected to welcome Russian-Georgian talks on the withdrawal of Russian bases and ask Russia to comply with its commitment to pull out troops from Moldova.

Police clashed with protesters this morning near the venue for the NATO summit. The protesters threw firebombs and stones at police, and police used clubs, tear gas, and water cannon to keep the protesters from approaching the conference center in the barricaded zone where NATO leaders are meeting.

There were early media reports that several police and protesters were injured and a large number of protesters were detained.

Turkey dramatically boosted security in preparation for the two-day NATO summit.