Bush Looks to Seal NATO Deal on Iraq Aid

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

With European Union support in hand, President Bush looked to seal an agreement for NATO to help stabilize Iraq as its fledgling government takes over this week. He shrugged off lingering European resentment of the war, saying "We'll just let the chips fall where they may."

NATO announced an initial agreement to help train Iraq's armed forces hours after Bush won support Saturday from the 25-nation European Union. Nineteen of NATO's 26 members overlap in the EU.

As the path for NATO involvement appeared to open up, the EU took a gentle swipe at Bush over abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of American soldiers. The final communique declared, "We stress the need for full respect of the Geneva Conventions," an unstated but obvious reference to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere. The conventions refer to international accords setting out guidelines for the humane treatment of prisoners.

With Bush standing beside him, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern told a news conference in Ireland, "These things, unfortunately, happened. We wish they didn't, but they do. And what's important then is how they're dealt with, how things improve for the future."

Later aloft Air Force One on his way to the NATO summit in Ankara, Bush said U.S. armed forces are committed to complying with the conventions and that the acts of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were wrong. Bush issued the statement on a United Nations international day in support of victims of torture.

Bush is widely unpopular in Turkey, and his arrival Saturday in Ankara was preceded by a series of protests and bomb blasts, including one Thursday that injured three people outside the Ankara hotel where he will stay. Another blast that day on an Istanbul bus killed four people and injured 14. On Saturday, Turkish police fired tear gas as more than 150 left-wing demonstrators hurled rocks and used sticks to try and break down a police barricade during a protest ahead of Bush's arrival.

Throwing a cloud over Bush's visit, militants loyal to terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said they have kidnapped three Turkish workers in Iraq and threatened to behead them in 72 hours. The kidnappers demanded the Turks hold demonstrations protesting the visit by the "criminal" Bush and that Turkish companies stop working in Iraq.

In Ireland a few miles from where Bush spoke, thousands demonstrated against Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq.

Bush asserted that the bitter differences with European leaders over the Iraq war are over, declaring "a common interest and a common goal to help the Iraqi people."

Bush bristled at ongoing European criticism of his decision to invade Iraq, saying "we'll just let the chips fall where they may." Asked about his apparent lack of support in Europe, Bush said, "I must confess that the first polls I worry about are those that are going to take place in early November this year." The presidential election is Nov. 2.

The United States and the European Union agreed in a joint statement to back Iraq's request for NATO military help and support the training of Iraqi security forces, and to reduce Iraq's international debt, estimated to be $120 billion. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said later that diplomats reached an initial agreement to respond positively to the Iraqi request. Nineteen of NATO's 26 members are in the EU.

Opposition led by France and Germany has prevented a NATO military role on the ground in Iraq. France and Germany have both gone along with the request to help training.

Officials said the NATO summit would also announce agreement on plans to extend the alliance's peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan which is currently limited to the capital, Kabul, and the northern city of Kunduz.

The plans to be adopted in Istanbul will extend the operation to five more northern cities through the deployment of small units to support civilian reconstruction.

Bush asked the EU to offer membership to Turkey, a key U.S. ally in the war against terror.

Iran's nuclear program was among the topics of concern at the summit in Ireland.

Participants said they were disturbed by Iran's intentions and insisted that the country be in full compliance with its international obligations not to create nuclear weapons.

In other declarations and statements issued at the close of the brief summit, the United States and EU agreed to:

_Better combat terrorism by sharing data on lost and stolen passports, work more closely on hunting down terrorist' financing networks and increasing cooperation between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Atlantic.

_Expand cooperation to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

_Back continued peace talks to end 20 years of civil conflict in southern Sudan, and advance efforts being made by the United Nations to bring peace to all Sudan and address humanitarian and human rights crises in Darfur in western Sudan.

On the economic side, the United States and the EU signed an agreement Saturday to make the EU's planned satellite navigation system compatible with the existing U.S. Global Positioning System.


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