Istanbul, Turkey NATO leaders pledged to back Iraq's new interim leadership Monday, issuing a strong statement of political support and an offer of military training for the forces of the fledgling government.
Meeting in this former capital of the Ottoman Empire -- that once also ruled Iraq -- alliance chiefs sought to use the gathering to stitch closed deep rifts over the American-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
"We are united in our support for the Iraqi people and offer full cooperation to the new sovereign interim government as it seeks to strengthen internal security," the 26 leaders said in a statement.
But differences were evident even over the scope of the military training operation. France and Germany, erstwhile opponents of putting NATO troops in Iraq, rejected U.S. hopes that a training mission could become a high-profile alliance presence in the Iraq.
"It is not in the mission conferred upon NATO, so it won't happen," said French President Jacques Chirac. "Any trace of NATO on Iraqi soil was considered as inopportune."
Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder both said they would be sending no military instructors to Iraq, insisting any training would be outside the country.
"There will be no military engagement of our own, no German soldiers in Iraq," Schroeder told reporters. He said Germany would provide army training facilities besides its ongoing work of instructing Iraq police officers in the United Arab Emirates.
NATO leaders were united in welcoming the decision to hand power to the Iraqis.
"We are naturally delighted. In my eyes, the return of Iraq's sovereignty is a necessary condition although, alas, not sufficient, for restoring peace," said Chirac who added he'd learned the news from President Bush on Monday morning.
In their statement, the NATO leaders declared "we have decided today to offer NATO's assistance to the government of Iraq with the training of its security forces."
The statement said allies would "consider, as a matter of urgency ... further proposals to support the nascent Iraqi security institutions."
Help for Afghanistan
In a move that should ease the burden on U.S. troops fighting Taliban-led insurgents, the 26 leaders also agreed to extend NATO's peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan by sending more than 3,000 additional troops to bolster security for September elections. NATO will also send permanent military teams to four more cities as part of phased expansion out of the capital, Kabul.
"It's right for NATO to step up to the mat today and say, 'we are going to extend the role of the security force,"' said Bush. "It's right for us to look at the measures we need urgently in order to give the protection for the Afghans as they approach their September election date."
Chirac, however, sparred with Bush about Afghanistan, rejecting a suggestion from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that NATO deploy its elite new response force to protect the elections.
That force is "meant to act in a known crisis, which is obviously not the case in Afghanistan today," Chirac told reporters. He added that a "NATO presence too clear, too numerous, is perhaps not what is politically the wisest and most reasonable thing ahead of an election."
While NATO expands its Afghan mission, the leaders agreed to end its peacekeeping operation in Bosnia after nine years, handing responsibility for the 7,500-strong mission to the European Union at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters hurled fire-bombs and stones at police Monday as they tried to reach the conference center where NATO leaders were meeting. Police used tear gas and water cannons to stop the crowd.
The clashes took place in two Istanbul neighborhoods about two miles from a barricaded zone in the center of the city where the NATO leaders were meeting.