US Asks NATO for Help with Possible War on Iraq

"These are prudent contingency proposals so that in the event that we would be called on to show solidarity with Turkey–we would be positioned militarily to do so."

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–The United States formally asked its NATO allies on Wednesday for indirect military assistance in case of a war with Iraq–including the deployment of missiles to protect Turkey–NATO officials said.

Officials said Washington had tabled a proposal for six forms of support–including access to airspace–bases–ports and refueling facilities–but none of which would entail direct involvement by the 19-nation alliance in an attack on Iraq.

"These are prudent contingency proposals so that in the event that we would be called on to show solidarity with Turkey–we would be positioned militarily to do so,” one NATO official said.

NATO sources said the allies were asked to deploy AWACS early warning and surveillance aircraft and Patriot air defense missiles to protect NATO member Turkey–a likely base for any U.S.-led air strikes on Iraq–from Iraqi missile or air attack.

The request also included using standing naval forces and minesweepers.

NATO officials said consultations were at an early stage and no decision had been taken on the U.S. request. Ambassadors were expected to seek instructions from their governmen’s and discuss the issue again next week.

Several European allies–notably France and Germany–say the United States and Britain would require a fresh United Nations Security Council mandate to use force against Baghdad.

Germany has said it would not participate in any attack on Iraq–even with a UN blessing.

NATO officials said the United States was still pursuing the United Nations track of arms inspections in a bid to disarm Iraq without a war and the request to NATO did not signal any change in policy.

The officials said the request put forward by U.S. NATO envoy Nicholas Burns on Wednesday was very similar to an informal request for assistance made to the allies last month by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Wolfowitz suggested NATO could also consider taking a role in post-war humanitarian and stabilization operations in Iraq.

He is due to meet NATO Secretary-General George Robertson briefly on Friday when he attends a change of command ceremony for NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe in Mons–Belgium.

Diplomats said Washington’s request for assistance largely mirrored what NATO gave in indirect support for the U.S. 1991 Gulf War effort.

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