An annoyed U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld learned of the proposal Saturday night after it was reported in the German newsweekly der Spiegel.
The proposal, to be presented next week to the U.N. Security Council, would send thousands of U.N. troops -- so-called "blue helmets" -- and hundreds, possibly thousands, more inspectors to enforce U.N. resolutions calling for Iraq's disarmament.
In comments to reporters, a senior U.S. government official said, "In diplomacy, if you are trying to win friends and influence people the last thing in the world you want to do is to lay on the U.S. government -- on the most important issue facing us -- a major diplomatic proposal through the press. That's not exactly the way to go."
The official pointed out that Rumsfeld, in Munich for the 39th annual Wehrkunde security conference of defense ministers, had met with European officials throughout the day and the matter never was brought up.
"That furthered suspicions on our side," the official said.
Rumsfeld raised the issue with German Defense Minister Peter Struck in a one-on-one meeting Saturday. "And the response we got was, 'We're talking about that with the French, but we're not ready to talk to you about it; it's not fully done,'" the senior official said, "which to say the least was a highly inadequate response."
The official called it extraordinary that no one had spoken to Rumsfeld about it before, particularly given Rumsfeld's strong condemnatory comments earlier in the day. Earlier Saturday, Rumsfeld had warned Germany and France -- the most vociferous critics of the U.S. hard-line toward Iraq -- they risk isolating themselves rather than the United States if they continue their resistance to forcing Iraq to disarm.
"And we are now making the point to any French and Germans we can find that it's not the way to have a winning hand with the United States," the senior official said.
Separate from the secretive process that the United States delegation found outrageous, the U.S. government is likely to reject out of hand any such proposal to beef up inspections.
The senior official brought up the disaster with U.N. troops in Srebrenica in the former Yugoslavia in July 1995, when Bosnian Serb units killed about 8,000 Muslim men and boys after capturing the town, a U.N.-designated "safe area."
"We remember the last time that blue helmets were in a very difficult situation, and we remember July 10th, 1995, Srebrenica, when 8,000 men and boys were killed," the official said. "Srbrenica was an unmitigated disaster."
Moreover, the U.S. position remains it is not the inspectors' job to find Iraqi weapons but Iraq's job to prove it has disarmed. According to the United States, more inspectors will not change Iraq's noncompliance.
Moments before the senior official spoke a clearly angry Rumsfeld declined to comment on the proposal, saying he only knew what was in the press.
Earlier in the day, Rumsfeld had blasted the "two or three" NATO members -- including Germany and France -- who are blocking a NATO proposal to direct the Strategic Allied Commander of Europe to prepare a Patriot missile battery, a surveillance plane and chemical and biological detectors to protect Turkey from a possible attack from Iraq. His remarks came in a speech Saturday to the alliance defense ministers gathered here for the conference.
"It is beyond comprehension to me how in the world can a NATO country," he began -- interrupted by thunderous applause. "To prevent," he continued, "just the planning I think is inexcusable," he continued.
"Those preventing the alliance from taking even minimum measures to prepare to do so risk undermining the credibility of the NATO alliance," he warned. "If they won't live up to that, what next might they not live up to?"
Rumsfeld said if NATO does not approve the protective measures for Turkey, the United States will do it independently.
"Turkey will not be hurt. The United States (and others) will go right ahead and do it, let there be no doubt," he said. "What will be hurt is NATO."
A senior defense official told reporters Saturday afternoon he expects NATO to approve the proposal on Monday. So "confident and comfortable" was NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson that he put the proposal under a "break-silence procedure," meaning if no NATO member objects, it will go into effect.
The United States proposed three weeks ago that NATO send Patriot missiles, an AWACS plane and chemical and biological weapons detection equipment to Turkey. The proposal has been stalled because of Germany and France's objections, the senior defense official said.
Turkey could invoke Article IV of the NATO charter to secure the protective measures, the official said, but at this point it has opted not to.
"It is a fairly major step for a country to invoke the treaty. This was a desire to move this forward quickly and without invoking the treaty," the official said.
It was also a way for the United States to involve and consult with NATO, a gesture it was accused of ignoring after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the defense official said.
Turkey shares a border with Iraq and already hosts more than 1,000 American troops at Incirlik Air Base, from where raids on Iraqi air defense are conducted. As many as 15,000 Army soldiers could be based in Turkey in advance of a war. Turkey is within Scud missile range of Iraq.
Rumsfeld was not alone in singling out Germany and France for criticism. U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the opposition to the Turkish proposal "exposed the sneering in (Paris and Berlin) about the impulsive cowboy in the White House for the vacuous posturing and obvious misdirection that it is," and also exposed "the myth that France and Germany speak for Europe."
McCain also accused them of "America-bashing to rally their people and other European elites to the call of European unity."
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., took a more conciliatory tone, saying he understood part of the reason for the rift: the Bush administration's balking at the Kyoto global climate change treaty, the international criminal court and the abrogation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.
"I fear during the last two years our administration has not listened to Europe," said Lieberman, who has declared his presidential candidacy for the United States.
Rumsfeld also blamed the European leaders for the popular opposition to a U.S.-led war in Iraq, saying "if they pounded in" their misgivings often enough, the public would oppose it too.
Rumsfeld then launched a broad attack on the United Nations for allowing Libya to head a human rights commission and Iraq to head a disarmament commission.
"That these acts of irresponsibility could happen now, at this moment in history, is breathtaking," leaving no doubt that in his mind the United Nations has already lost its credibility, Rumsfeld said.
"Those acts will be marked in the history of the United Nations as either the low point of that institution in retreat, or the turning point when the U.N. woke up, took hold of itself and moved away from a path of ridicule to a path of responsibility."
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer made a passionate, defensive response to Rumsfeld's charges.
"We are doing better than the others are!" he said, referring to the German troop contribution to Afghanistan, which now numbers 3,000, he said. Germany is also slated to take over command of the international peacekeeping force with the Netherlands.
Fischer said he personally had pushed Germany, after years of non-militarism, to join the war in Kosovo, and then in Macedonia and then in Afghanistan. But he sees a clear distinction between those situations and Iraq.
"It wasn't just force. It was a last resort," he said.
Germany is not shy about using force when it is necessary, Fischer said from the podium but directly to Rumsfeld, who was at that point seated in the audience.
"Why this priority now? Why now? We've all known what we've known (about Iraq) for years," he said. "We owe our own democracy to America," he conceded, recalling World War II, "but we have to be convinced."
"Excuse me," he shouted, switching to English, "I'm not convinced!"
With so many difficulties in that region of the world, including Afghanistan which still struggles to establish itself, the continuing search for al Qaida, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, now is not the time to take on a new conflict in Iraq, Fischer declared. He predicted a war in Iraq will be followed by "decades" of military occupation.
"Is the United States ready for a long-term presence?" he asked. "The idea (Iraq) will suddenly blossom into a democracy, I do not share."
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson attempted to play down the conflict between the United States and Germany and France.
"This makes good political theater but does not amount to a breakdown in the alliance," he said.
The Werkunde conference continues through Sunday. Rumsfeld is to depart Saturday night after bilateral meetings with the German, Russian, Georgian, Norwegian and Indian defense ministers, among others.