BRUSSELS, Belgium – NATO (search) failed Wednesday to overcome differences on a promised training mission for Iraqi forces, with France resisting U.S. pressure for a high-profile alliance role inside the country.
Two lengthy, closed-door debates ended with no agreement. But NATO officials said ambassadors would reconvene Thursday with the supreme allied commander in Europe, U.S. Marine Gen. James Jones.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (search) was pushing the 26 NATO countries to reach a decision this week on how to carry out the training missions agreed to by leaders at their summit a month ago.
Differences echoed the alliance crisis ahead of the Iraq war (search), when France, joined for a time by Germany and Belgium, blocked agreement for weeks on defensive aid to Turkey because of opposition to U.S. military action.
That decision went through only after it was moved to NATO's military command structure, which France pulled out of in the 1960s.
Both sides have sought in recent months to put the past behind them, yet irritants keep surfacing.
Paris fears sending a lot of NATO forces could be a first step to military engagement, and would likely undermine the new Iraqi government's credibility and sovereignty.
French President Jacques Chirac has suggested training be conducted outside the country or bilaterally by individual nations — without flying the NATO flag.
The Bush administration, eager to demonstrate growing international backing for its Iraq policy, would prefer a major mission in Iraq under NATO command.
France was pushing for sending another fact-finding mission of 30 to 40 NATO military experts to Iraq, following one sent early this month that was headed by U.S. Adm. Greg Johnson.
French and U.S. officials refused to comment on Wednesday's meetings, and other diplomats were equally tightlipped.
Reflecting the alliance's mounting commitments in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan and the Olympic Games next month in Greece, de Hoop Scheffer on Wednesday canceled NATO's traditional August break.