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U.S.: Rice Rallies NATO Allies To Secure Backing For U.S. Goals In Iraq, Afghanistan

Condoleezza Rice (file photo) U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used her maiden visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels today to rally allies to support U.S. initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rice said she was very optimistic after meeting foreign ministers from other NATO countries, saying the alliance is now more united than at any time since the war in Iraq. She said the United States expects all allies to make contributions towards training Iraq’s security forces. Expanding the remit of NATO’s forces in Afghanistan was also high on the agenda, as were U.S. efforts to push for greater NATO engagement in the Mideast and the Arab world.

Brussels, 9 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Condoleezza Rice’s first visit to Brussels as U.S. secretary of state was -- in her own words -- "very gratifying."

Speaking to the media after the NATO meeting, Rice said the divisions that dogged the alliance since the run-up to the Iraq war are a thing of the past. She said the United States and its European allies have never been more united since the war:

"Our differences, I think, are really behind us because it is so clear what the future holds for the alliance, for the trans-Atlantic alliance, and what it is that we need to do. As I said, I have never experienced a greater unity about what the agenda requires of us," Rice said.

Rice said NATO’s future is now becoming clear. What NATO needs to do, she indicated, is to rally behind the United States in its efforts to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, engage the Arab world, support the peace process in the Middle East -- provided it proves durable -- and work with Ukraine to consolidate democracy in the country and hold out the prospect of eventual NATO membership for Kyiv.

Iraq, as predicted, topped Rice’s agenda. She said she had had a "very-good discussion" on recent developments in the country with the other 25 NATO foreign ministers. She particularly praised allies from the former Soviet bloc, which she said find the recent elections in Iraq "reminiscent" of their own not-so-distant struggle for liberty.

Rice said the United States expects every ally to contribute in some form towards the training of the new Iraqi security forces. She said the initial response was very positive.

"There were a number of countries that immediately agreed to contribute [to NATO's training mission for Iraqi security forces] and a number of others that said that they...intend to contribute because everyone understands the importance of training the Iraqi security forces so that the Iraqis are capable of taking on their own security tasks," Rice said.

Rice was supported by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who said he expects all allies to either contribute training staff in Iraq, outside the country, or pay for some of the costs. He said NATO aims to set up a program capable of training 1,000 Iraqi officials each year.

Earlier this week NATO officials praised France and Germany -- both strong critics of the war -- for agreeing to train Iraqi personnel in neighboring countries, even if they refuse to send their national armies to Iraq.

Rice said increased contributions of troops and materiel for Afghanistan are important, too. NATO plans to extend the reach of the "provincial reconstruction teams" (PRTs) run by the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF. De Hoop Scheffer said today that a number of teams will be set up within a few months in the west, near Herat. By the end of the year, NATO-led PRTs should be present in the south of the country as well.

Rice and de Hoop Scheffer both underlined the importance of strengthening NATO’s ties with the Arab world and hinted at a possible alliance role in securing an eventual peace between Israelis and the Palestinians.

Rice also said that NATO membership remains an "imaginable" long-term goal for Ukraine. Ukraine’s newly elected president, Viktor Yushchenko, will attend the NATO summit on 22 February in Brussels, where he will meet, among others, U.S. President George W. Bush.

Rice brushed off questions on two of the biggest potential stumbling blocks in U.S.-European relations -- Iran and China. These issues were raised at today’s NATO meeting, but were to be discussed in greater detail in Rice’s subsequent meetings with EU officials later today in Brussels and Luxembourg.

On Iran, Rice said the United States supports European efforts to reach an agreement with Tehran ruling out the development of nuclear weapons. She said that although Washington has no direct contacts with Iran, it has constant, intensive consultations with the EU and that there is a "unity of message."

"The Iranians have to be held to their international obligations. We haven't set any timetables. We continue to be in completely close consultation with the Europeans about how it is going, about whether progress is being made," Rice said.

Rice said Iran "knows what in must do" to avoid the matter being referred to the UN Security Council. She also indicated the United States has other important demands -- that Iran stop supporting terrorist groups in the Mideast and for it to improve its human rights record.

Addressing EU plans to lift its arms embargo against China, Rice said she wants to "underscore" how much the bloc has recently taken account of U.S. concerns. She said Washington has had "very fruitful" discussions with EU capitals on a range of issues from human rights to concerns about the future military balance in the region and ways of curtailing future technology transfers to China.