Chirac rejects call for more Nato troops to go to Iraq

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The Independent Online

President Jacques Chirac of Francecast a cloud over the G8 summit yesterday by rejecting a call by George Bush and Tony Blair for Nato to send troops to Iraq to back the interim government after the handover of sovereignty on 30 June.

President Jacques Chirac of Francecast a cloud over the G8 summit yesterday by rejecting a call by George Bush and Tony Blair for Nato to send troops to Iraq to back the interim government after the handover of sovereignty on 30 June.

President Bush and Mr Blair made it clear they were hoping that Nato nations, which have been reluctant to become embroiled in Iraq, would have a change of heart following the unanimous passing of the UN Security Council resolution giving authority to the Allied force. But M. Chirac told reporters at the summit of leading industrial nations at Sea Island: "I do not think it's the mission of Nato to intervene in Iraq."

A senior British source responded: "[M. Chirac] seems to think we are talking about hundreds of thousands of troops. We are not talking about that. We are talking about training the Iraqis. Any request for Nato support would come from the Iraqi government."

The summit did agree to support a fresh attempt to revive the Middle East "road-map" peace initiative by asking the quartet - Russia, the US, the EU and the UN - to go back into the peace talks by the end of this month. It will enable Mr Blair to return home at the weekend with evidence for his critics that he is able to use leverage on President Bush to tackle the underlying Middle East problem, which is helping fuel the continuing violence in Iraq.

Mr Bush and Mr Blair said they wanted to build on the momentum from the 15-0 vote in the UN Security Council. Mr Bush said he could see a wider role for Nato in post-occupation Iraq after a 45-minute meeting with Mr Blair.He said: "We believe Nato ought to be involved. We will work with our Nato friends to at least continue the role that now exists, and hopefully expand it somewhat."

Fifteen Nato countries currently have forces in Iraq. The Spanish government pulled out its troops after the Madrid bombings. Britain recently announced it would send an extra 300 troops to Iraq at the request of British commanders on the ground, but ministers are committed to making a strategic deployment of between 3,000 and 7,000 extra British troops to fill the gaps left by the Spanish.

Mr Blair is hoping that the Security Council resolution will minimise the political fall-out at home when the decision is made, but a senior Tory source said: "The Security Council resolution and having more Nato troops in Iraq won't make a blind bit of difference to Osama bin Laden. If anything, it will make it more likely al-Qa'ida will step up the suicide bombings to show it cannot work."

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