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Wednesday, 20 November, 2002, 06:11 GMT
Bush urges Nato unity over Iraq
Police in Prague
A huge security operation is under way at the summit
US President George W Bush has said he hopes Nato will join the United States in the event of a war with Iraq.

Speaking on his arrival in Prague for a Nato summit, President Bush urged members of the alliance to unite against Iraq should the need arise.

I hope our Nato friends come with us

President Bush
Mr Bush is to hold a series of meetings with Nato allies on Wednesday to try to gain wider backing for possible military action against Baghdad.

While Iraq is not officially on the conference agenda, the topic is likely to overshadow discussions on expanding the Western alliance to include seven new members.

Members are also expected to endorse the creation of a new rapid reaction Nato force to deal with the growing threat of international terrorism.

Support sought

While Iraq does not concern Nato directly, the US will be counting on the support of the individual members of the alliance, both political and practical, in the event of any conflict.

US plane at Incirlik airbase
A US strike on Iraq would need Turkey's co-operation

The BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus, who is in Prague, says it is this which gives added importance to President Bush's meetings with his French and Turkish counterparts - two countries who, because of their diplomatic weight or strategic importance, will be crucial actors in the unfolding drama.

France, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has openly opposed US threats of force against Iraq, while the continuing use of Turkey's Incirlik airbase is vital to any US air strikes.

Our correspondent says that as far as Nato is concerned, President Bush has to demonstrate that his administration regards the alliance as a valuable asset in its own terms and not just as a potential toolbox of military assets on which the Pentagon can draw.

If the UN inspection process in Iraq fails, Mr Bush has to carry his major allies with him.

Rapid response

The two-day summit will mainly focus on plans to expand and transform the organisation.

Prospective new members

Members will invite seven ex-communist states to join the alliance in 2004, in the single largest inclusion of new countries within Nato since it was established in 1949 .

Nato officials have described the event as the Transformation Summit, which will also see plans to reshape the alliance to meet new security threats.

This includes the creation of a rapid response force, comprising 21,000 combat-ready troops, ready to deploy quickly to trouble spots around the world and play a key role in the US-led war on international terrorism.

President Bush has indicated he will not ask Nato for military help against Iraq, but White House aides said they were working to get the alliance to issue a statement supporting the goal of disarming Iraq.

Speaking on Czech television on Tuesday, President Bush said that if necessary America would "lead a coalition of the willing" to rid Iraq of banned weapons, adding: "I hope our Nato friends come with us."

Security concerns

A huge security operation is under way in the Czech capital, Prague, as 40 heads of state arrive for the landmark summit.

Nearly 15,000 police, soldiers and special forces are on the alert for threats ranging from terrorist attacks to anarchist demonstrations, and US fighters are providing security in the air.

To protect delegates at the summit - Nato's first behind the former Iron Curtain - a no-go area for ordinary people is being set up around the summit venue, and streets are to be sealed off for official convoys.

The Czech army is supplying armoured cars, helicopters and anti-chemical weapons teams.

Its bomb disposal experts were called on to defuse a bomb found on a railway track in a Prague suburb on Tuesday.

The city's residents have been encouraged to take a long weekend, to get them out of the way.

The BBC's Janet Barrie
"The threat of international terrorism is one thing Nato will be looking at"
The BBC's Paul Anderson in Prague
"Mr Bush's Nato colleagues are right behind him in supporting the UN resolution (on Iraq)"
Expanding Nato

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See also:

14 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
16 Oct 02 | Politics
19 Nov 02 | Middle East
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