NATO could take role in anti-Iraq coalition - Bush


President George W. Bush said today NATO could help form a coalition against Iraq as he left for an alliance summit in Prague expected to be dominated by the international showdown with Saddam Hussein.

In comments released by the White House as Mr Bush departed, the US leader said: "There's all kinds of ways for that coalition to be formed. It could be formed with NATO if they choose."

The top issue on the official agenda for the summit on Thursday and Friday is enlarging the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to take in more new members from central and eastern Europe.

But officials have admitted that Iraq will overshadow talks among NATO leaders and that plans for a coalition could be discussed.

In an interview with Radio Free Europe released by the White House, Mr Bush declared: "I have said to the UN Security Council we'll go back and discuss the matter with you. But Mr Saddam Hussein must understand he'll be disarmed one way or the other."

UN weapons inspectors returned to Baghdad yesterday after the UN passed a resolution laying down tough conditions for Iraq to follow and warning of "serious consequences" if the inspectors are obstructed.

"I suspect that we will hear from NATO partners what they are prepared to do (about Iraq) and what they can do," US national security adviser Ms Condoleezza Rice said last week.

"Iraq is typical or the most important example of the kind of threat that NATO will face in the future, so it would be odd if this were not an issue at the summit, but it is not the reason for this summit," Ms Rice said, adding that she expected "some kind of statement from NATO" on Iraq.

After arriving in Prague tomorrow, Mr Bush will meet separately with Czech President Vaclav Havel and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla; Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer; French President Jacques Chirac; and NATO Secretary General George Robertson.

After the summit, Mr Bush will meet Mr Putin near Saint Petersburg to discuss Iraq as well as the war on terrorism and Chechnya. The US president will also reiterate his support for his Russian counterpart in the Chechen crisis.