PRIME MINISTER DZURINDA SAYS HELPING THE COUNTRY IS A "DEMOCRATIC DUTY"

Iraq involvement may deepen

SLOVAKIA's contribution to helping Iraq transform the remnants of Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime after the war may increase, suggest statements made by the Slovak officials who participated in the recent NATO summit in Istanbul.
Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, the leader of a new NATO member, said during the summit that contributing to positive changes in Iraq was in the interest of the democratic world.
"The safer the region is, the better for the world and for us," Dzurinda said. "We'll do what's in our power."

SLOVAKIA's contribution to helping Iraq transform the remnants of Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime after the war may increase, suggest statements made by the Slovak officials who participated in the recent NATO summit in Istanbul.

Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, the leader of a new NATO member, said during the summit that contributing to positive changes in Iraq was in the interest of the democratic world.

"The safer the region is, the better for the world and for us," Dzurinda said. "We'll do what's in our power."

Slovakia currently has a mine-clearing unit in Iraq consisting of just over 100 soldiers.

President Ivan Gašparovič agreed with the PM that the country has to help Iraq, noting however, that Slovakia still has to decide how to go about it, whether by continuing to provide military experts or whether to think of a new way it could help.

"We need to think about how we want to contribute - whether it will be the same kind of work we are carrying out now or whether it will be something else," said Gašparovič.

According to the initial statements of the Slovak officials at the summit, it is likely that the country may assist in training the Iraqi military police.

Whatever form the assistance may take, the officials, including Slovak Defence Minister Juraj Liška, noted that Slovakia's financial capabilities would determine the manner and extent to which the central European state would help NATO in consolidating Iraq.

"We see certain possibilities in that [area]," said minister Liška on June 27.

He also said that Slovakia's capacity in terms of the country's soldiers active in foreign missions was "stretched to the maximum possible extent".

Slovakia is "limited by our economic possibilities" added Dzurinda.

Only recently, on June 23, the Slovak cabinet approved a draft plan of the proposed Slovak Army goals for the period between 2004 and 2010 according to which the state would provide a mechanical battalion, chemical unit, military engineers, and a military police unit for NATO military operations.

These tasks, however, will require an extra Sk8 billion (€200 million) to carry through to 2010.

Although NATO proposed that Slovakia take on 72 goals, the country only fully accepted 34 and partly accepted 11. It is considering another four which include the provision of more units and research and development requirements. Next year the budget for the Defence Ministry is planned at 1.85 percent of GDP, which the sector's officials say is insufficient considering the requirements of the army. The ministry argues that at least 1.96 percent of GDP should be spent on the sector's needs.

The plan still needs to be approved by a defence planning committee composed of permanent members of alliance member states.

At a press conference held on June 29, Deputy Defence Minister Martin Fedor said that his ministry was discussing the possibility of Slovakia financing the country's foreign military missions in a way that would not take away funds allotted to the ministry within approved state budgets.

"If a political representation is expected to carry responsibility for sending out soldiers to foreign missions, it should be [financially] secured from a budget chapter other than the defence ministry's," said Fedor.

In a similar argument, Smer opposition party member Robert Kaliňák, the head of Slovakia's parliamentary defence committee, noted that, for instance, sending Slovak soldiers to Afghanistan posed some disadvantages as it used money that was originally intended for the purchase of army equipment.

Despite unresolved financial issues, Slovak top officials maintained upon their return from Istanbul that the alliance was united in addressing current world conflicts.

"The transatlantic alliance is again united on the issue of resolving the most important challenges," said Dzurinda.

"There may have been various shades and accents, but the summit took on a united atmosphere. NATO today is apparently the only organisation in the world that is able to resolve even the most difficult conflicts, including the use of force," said the PM.

The Slovak officials, including President Gašparovič, also stressed at the summit that Slovakia supported a strong NATO with stress on the alliance's transatlantic aspect, which would ensure that the organisation be prepared to face security threats anywhere in the world.

"This is our vision for NATO in the 21st century," Gašparovič said.

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