San Diego Union Tribune

June 11, 2004

Bush, at summit, says NATO not expected to send troops


SAVANNAH, Ga. President Bush said yesterday he does not expect the United States' NATO partners to send more troops to Iraq, but he suggested the alliance could help with the training of new security forces there.

Trying to quiet a disagreement with French President Jacques Chirac over an expanded NATO role, Bush told a news conference at the conclusion of an international summit near here, "I don't expect more troops from NATO to be offered up. That's an unrealistic expectation. Nobody is suggesting that."

Meanwhile, Chirac told reporters that he has no particular opinion about using NATO in a training capacity in the absence of a specific proposal. But he reiterated reservations about deploying NATO troops in combat.

The controversy arose Wednesday when Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair broached an expanded NATO role in Iraq.

Chirac objected, saying that such a development would be contrary to NATO's mission.

At his 41-minute news conference, Bush was in an upbeat, almost puckish mood, proclaiming the summit as "very successful," joking with reporters and reporting that the French president thought the food in Georgia was "great."

Bush said he felt the gathering's biggest accomplishment was the endorsement of his initiative to promote economic and democratic reforms across the Mideast.

"The spread of freedom throughout the Middle East is the imperative of our age," Bush said.

Earlier yesterday, Bush and Chirac met privately.

Bush told reporters that he and Chirac had discussed "whether or not there is a continued role in Iraq for NATO."

With Chirac looking on, Bush added, "I assured the president we will continue to consult closely. The point is . . . that we understand that the Iraqi people need help to defend themselves, to rebuild their country and, most importantly, to hold elections."

Before adjourning the annual summit of major industrial democracies, the leaders agreed to beef up support for global peacekeeping by training and equipping 75,000 troops over the next six years with a focus on African trouble spots.

They also endorsed agreements to provide help to four governments Peru, Georgia, Nicaragua and Nigeria in combating corruption.

Other heads of state participating in the deliberations were Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and, representing the European Union, Irish Prime MInister Bertie Ahern.

After a lunch with leaders from Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda, the summit endorsed a U.S. proposal to establish a global consortium to accelerate HIV vaccine development. Bush has agreed to spend $15 million to get the effort started.

In addition, the eight summit leaders called for steps to end famine in the Horn of Africa by improving agricultural productivity in the area, helping Ethiopia develop resources for feeding 5 million of its citizens by 2009 and improving the global capacity to respond to such emergencies.

Bush's relationship with leaders who opposed the invasion of Iraq especially Chirac became a central issue during the summit.

"We are united by common values," Bush told reporters. "It's easy for us to start conversations. It is to be expected that nations don't always agree on every issue."

Chirac, at his news conference, described his relationship with Bush as "cordial," adding, "One can be friends without being subordinate."

On another issue, a U.S. drive to gain support to forgive a significant part of Iraq's massive $120 billion in foreign debt faltered, in part because of resistance from countries who think relief for Iraq should go hand in hand with more generous debt relief for the world's poorest countries, many of them in Africa.

"How would you explain to these people that in three months we are going to do more for Iraq than we have done in 10 years for the 37 poorest and most indebted countries in the world?" Chirac asked at his news conference.