US to brief Nato on its plan for response

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The Independent Online

Nato defence ministers will be briefed tomorrow on America's strategy for responding to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The alliance is still in the midst of debates on what its role in the reprisals should be.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the Nato Secretary General, said yesterday he expects "that we will get more details from the United States as to what they plan" when he and his colleagues convene for the informal meeting in Brussels.

However, Lord Robertson stressed that the US "has the lead in this matter, and it is up to them to ask what help they want from Nato, as a whole and from individual allies in particular".

Tomorrow's meeting of defence ministers had been planned as a two-day event in Naples. The changes to the venue and the duration were announced last Friday. The explanation given was that it was impossible to move most of the Nato secretariat from Brussels to Naples because of the international tensions.

The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, will not attend. Instead, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, is expected to brief the other 18 nations that belong to the alliance.

The Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, will discuss the conflict, and Russia's possible co-operation in combating terrorism, over dinner tomorrow night.

After the attack on New York and Washington, the alliance invoked its collective security agreement, article five – declaring that an attack on one is an attack on all. Article five obliges each member state to take "such action as it deems necessary" to help the US, but America, the alliance's dominating military power, has not yet asked for assistance.

Nato planners are examining what role it could play, and diplomats say they see the alliance as a possible point of exchange of information or intelligence. Hardware from Nato countries, such as surveillance capabilities, may be called upon but, unlike its constituent member states, Nato itself has no intelligence-gathering or counter- terrorism operations.

It remained unclear whether Washington will present any "evidence" that Osama bin Laden was the mastermind of the attack or demonstrate that it came from abroad – one of the requirements before article five can be used.

Lord Robertson said he anticipates "strong statements of support for the United States of America from the other 18 defence ministers who will be here in Brussels".

Meanwhile, the EU's most senior foreign policy officials began a five-day tour of Islamic countries to try to bolster support for the US in countries with which Europe has a better relationship than America.