Nato scheme to train Iraqi security forces is blocked

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France led a clutch of nations yesterday blocking Nato plans to train Iraqi security forces.

France led a clutch of nations yesterday blocking Nato plans to train Iraqi security forces.

The 26 Nato allies agreed last month in Istanbul to go ahead with a training programme, but the US and the French remain at odds over the interpretation of the accord. At issue is the extent of any Nato deployment inside Iraq.

Despite three meetings yesterday, ambassadors failed to clinch a deal, though there was optimism that a compromise can be found by the weekend.

At the Istanbul summit the French President, Jacques Chirac, said the alliance could offer support to individual nations which want to train Iraqi troops but that "a Nato presence in Iraq" was out of the question.

Germany and Belgium are also unenthusiastic about an alliance mission inside the country although they will not stand in the way of the majority.

The US has raised the temperature by pushing hard for an early decision and an ambitious programme of Nato involvement. "It is not just the French that have concerns," said one Nato official, "The US is taking a fairly hardline position."

Nato has already sent a fact-finding mission to Iraq, and the US wants a second one, due to leave shortly, to be allowed to begin some form of training. That is being resisted by Paris and Berlin, which argue that the mission should assess safety and decide on where and how the training should take place.

France is also opposed to putting a Nato mission under the operational command of the US-led multinational force. "The French fear that the Americans will be able to transfer responsibilities to Nato because of this unique chain of command," said one Nato diplomat.

Meanwhile France is reluctant to make any show of international support for George Bush's Iraq policy before the Republican Party's pre-election convention at the end of August.

However the US is growing increasingly impatient with Paris, which it believes is trying to delay decisions and undermine the alliance. They accuse M. Chirac of reneging on a deal over training which was struck before the Istanbul summit.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Nato Secretary General, has called for a deal to be struck this week and said that training could take place "both inside and outside Iraq".