WASHINGTON – With a help-wanted letter from Iraq's new prime minister in hand, President Bush will challenge NATO (search) to provide assistance to help quell increasing violence as the transfer of sovereignty nears, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Thursday.
Briefing reporters on Bush's talks next week with allied leaders in Turkey, Rice said, "The president will ask people to consider this historic opportunity and to consider the sacrifices that others have made in their behalf."
Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi (search), wrote a one-page letter to allied governments asking for training and technical and other assistance, but not troops. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Thursday was drafting a response and, in a possible sign of agreement, he said: "NATO should never slam the door in this prime minister's face."
In Rome, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that many countries, including Italy, were available to train police and security forces.
"Italy strongly supports Allawi's request and is ready to say yes," he said.
Rice said, "The key is to improve Iraqi security capabilities, whether it is a police force or what they will turn into a kind of national guard, their civilian defense force or the army, to improve those forces as quickly as possible."
"That takes training," she said.
She also indicated the alliance might do more — and that Arab countries might step in. "We will see what other contributions come, and from where," she said.
Bush, who spoke with Allawi this week and updated members of Congress about the situation in Iraq during an hour-long meeting at the White House on Thursday, is hoping allied leaders will formally offer assistance at the NATO summit next week in Istanbul, Turkey.
"What needs to happen in Iraq is that we need to equip and train and beef up the Iraqi security forces," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "That's where our focus is moving forward. ... We do believe that NATO could play a useful role in helping with the training of those Iraqi security forces, because they're the ones who will ultimately be in position to oversee their security."
At a swearing-in ceremony for the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John D. Negroponte (search), Secretary of State Colin Powell implied anew on Wednesday that there may be additions to the 32-nation coalition that is engaged in peacekeeping and fighting insurgents in Iraq.
"Dozens of nations have contributed to and sacrificed for the sake of a new and free Iraq," Powell said. "And those contributions will continue. I know that the Iraqi people will welcome new partners."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted that 16 of the 26 NATO countries already are in the U.S.-led coalition.
Initially, the Bush administration was seeking more troops from NATO heavyweights like France and Germany. Both have emphatically declined to send soldiers. The administration, which is claiming a new spirit of cooperation with European nations that opposed the war, now is urging its allies to help in other ways.