PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) – U.S. President George W. Bush urged NATO allies to “come with us” and help disarm President Saddam Hussein, even as summit diplomats said Tuesday the alliance will not take up arms collectively against Iraq.
Bush, who arrived first among 19 NATO leaders for a two-day gathering shadowed by intense security, said alliance nations can find ways individually to support his campaign against Saddam.
“Everybody can contribute something,” he told Czech TV as the White House sought to lower expectations for a major NATO statement on Iraq.
“It all has got to be done within the strategy of the true threats we face in the 21st century, which is global terrorism. That’s the biggest threat to freedom right now,” he said.
NATO intends on Thursday to create a 21,000-strong rapid response force that could mobilize in seven to 30 days to confront threats from terrorists, renegade governments or regional crises.
In a historic reach toward Russia, the alliance also plans to invite seven former communist states into NATO _ Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Bulgaria.
The threat of terrorism loomed over the summit as the Czech government mobilized 12,000 police officers, 2,200 heavily armed soldiers and special anti-terrorist units to protect the presidents and prime ministers.
Engines growling from above, U.S. warplanes helped Czech airmen in small, aging Soviet-era planes protect the Prague airspace. Intelligence officials fear the leaders are an inviting target for al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
“Terrorist attacks can happen wherever and whenever,” Czech President Vaclav Havel said. “Our police and security forces have prepared a wide network of measures and have done the maximum so that nothing like that would happen. But 100 percent certainty cannot be found in the world today.”
Railway workers found an explosive device on railroad tracks within the city limits while checking a section of track that appeared to have been sabotaged, police spokeswoman Eva Brozova said.
Police are worried, too, about how to handle the thousands of protesters who have said they will demonstrate.
NATO’s new rapid response force, proposed in September by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, will not be ready for action in Iraq should Saddam defy a United Nations Security Council resolution to disarm.
Still, Bush seemed eager for NATO nations’ help to confront Saddam.
“If he refuses to disarm, then we will lead a coalition of the willing and disarm him,” Bush said. “And of course, I hope our NATO friends will come with us.”
“I think they will realize it’s in the interest of peace and stability that that happen,” the president said. “But we’re not close to that decision point yet because we’re just beginning the process of allowing Saddam the chance to show the world whether or not he will disarm.”
White House officials said the interview, conducted Monday at the White House and released here Tuesday, reflected Bush’s desire to solicit help from allies on an individual basis _ not from NATO as a whole.
For example, Czech army units specialize in dealing with poison gas, radiation or biological attack. Hungarian army engineers and guards earned respect on NATO duty in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Diplomats from several NATO nations, including the United States and Germany, said Tuesday they were negotiating over a summit statement that would call on Iraq to allow unhampered U.N. weapons inspections.
Germany wants the statement not to go beyond the U.N. Security Council resolution providing for new inspections and threatening “serious consequences” against Iraq if Saddam fails to cooperate, a German official said.
Several White House officials said they were pushing for nothing more, largely because they couldn’t secure a stronger show of unity from reluctant allies.