updated 9/22/2004 2:00:19 PM ET 2004-09-22T18:00:19

NATO allies agreed Wednesday on plans to send hundreds of instructors to run a training center for Iraq's armed forces after easing French concerns that had delayed a deal for a week.

"We are very pleased that this step has now been taken," said NATO spokesman James Appathurai.

The plan would deploy about 300 allied instructors to Iraq to operate the academy for Iraqi officers outside Baghdad.

"This assistance should be oriented to help Iraq build the capability of its government to address the security needs of the Iraqi people," Appathurai told reporters.

France, Belgium sought clarifications
Allied military experts approved the arrangements last week, but France and Belgium held up an agreement seeking clarification of the funding, command arrangements and protection of the training mission.

Officials said Paris accepted a revised plan drafted at a meeting of ambassadors from the 26 NATO allies Wednesday morning. Belgium dropped its reservations Tuesday after receiving assurances on the funding of the mission.

NATO's eastward marchFrance, Belgium, Germany and Spain have indicated they will not send instructors to Iraq and wanted to ensure that the bulk of the costs would be covered by participating nations. Under the agreement NATO will also coordinate training of Iraqi officers outside the country.

Paris also wanted to strictly define the role of the instructors and any NATO soldiers sent to protect them and clarify the position of U.S. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus who will command the alliance mission as well as maintaining his current role heading the much wider U.S. operation to rebuild Iraq's armed forces.

Although diplomats played down the significance of the hold up, they warned more delays would risk reopening the divisions that plunged NATO into crisis early last year when France, Germany and Belgium opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

First NATO instructors deployed in July
France has insisted it would prefer any NATO training to be kept outside Iraq. However, Paris lifted its objections to an alliance mission in July, allowing about 40 NATO instructors to deploy to Iraq in August. French officials have continued to insist that the operation keep a low profile.

The new plan would expand that mission, but still provide only a modest alliance role on the ground in Iraq. Allies rejected wider plans for NATO to take on much more of the training of Iraq's new security forces, which are scheduled to grow to 250,000. The bulk of the training will be done by U.S.-led coalition troops in Iraq.

Portugal on Wednesday said it was considering sending instructors to Iraq, but it was not immediately clear if they would be part of the NATO mission or joining the efforts of the multinational coalition.

Although several NATO allies have individually sent troops to join the coalition, objections from France and Germany had previously prevented the alliance from taking any collective role in Iraq, apart from offering logistical support to a Polish-led multinational force of 6,000 troops operating in the center of the country.

The alliance is, however, already looking at taking on other tasks, including helping to coordinate the rearmament and modernization of Iraq's armed forces and offering advice to ensure they remain under democratic control.

The alliance may also offer technical assistance in areas such as border protection and surveillance of Iraq's narrow coastline. It could also provide protection for a U.N. mission before elections planned for January.

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