The expanding NATO (search) alliance can be a bulwark for freedom without playing policeman to the world, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) said as she neared the end of a European tour that included visits to both old and newer NATO members.

"How NATO's role will evolve, I think, is still an open question, but we need to be open to new roles that NATO might play," Rice said Tuesday. She visits alliance headquarters Wednesday for an informal luncheon with NATO foreign ministers.

Alliance officials said the visit would focus on preparations for a visit by President Bush (search) on Feb. 22, when he will hold a summit with leaders of the other 25 allied nations.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer wants the meetings to seal a new unity in the trans-Atlantic alliance following bitter divisions over the Iraq war.

The talks are also expected to review NATO's peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo and its efforts to train Iraq's military. De Hoop Scheffer said last month's elections in Iraq — which were widely applauded in Europe — should boost allied efforts to expand its training mission.

Alliance defense ministers are set to discuss expanding both the Afghan and Iraq missions at a long-scheduled meeting Wednesday and Thursday.

NATO has been struggling to persuade governments to commit extra troops to both its missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the problem has been compounded by the refusal of France, Germany and other nations that opposed the U.S.-led war to send instructors.

NATO currently has about 100 troops in Iraq on the training mission.

Rice's visit to NATO is part of an eight-day tour of Europe and the Middle East that included a speech on U.S. foreign policy in Paris.

"I do not think that NATO needs to become the policeman of the world," Rice said in Paris. "I think that would be asking too much of this alliance."

"It is a bulwark for democratic states, and it can therefore play an important role in the spread of democracy and liberty, but we have other means," Rice said at a news conference with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier.

The trans-Atlantic alliance now includes countries far removed from its Cold War-era roots in Western Europe, and has numerous peacekeeping and military operations around the world.

"NATO has a very important role to play, but we should be very clear that there are many others who need to play these roles as well," Rice said in Paris.

For example, she noted that Brazil is leading the peacekeeping effort in Haiti and that the African Union is willing to help in Sudan.

Rice's first trip abroad as secretary of state concludes Thursday in Luxembourg. She has said that either she or her second-in-command will visit each of the NATO capitals early this year.