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NATO to support U.S. retaliation

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NATO allies invoke the 'all for one and one for all' principle  

BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- NATO has unanimously declared the hijack attacks on the U.S. to be an assault against all member states.

Secretary-General George Robertson said the U.S. would receive support for military action from its 18 NATO partners if it is found the assaults were committed by foreign nationals.

It is the first time in 52 years that the alliance has invoked Article V -- the NATO self-defence charter that says if one member state is under attack all other member nations would defend it.

The decision opens the way for NATO military and logistic support to any U.S. retaliation.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the statement would allow a possible collective response once the U.S. has identified who was responsible for the attacks.

Robertson said: "The country attacked has to make the decisions. It has to be the one that asks for help...The U.S. is still assessing the evidence available."

In-depth: America under attack  

The secretary-general added: "The (NATO) Council agreed that if it is determined that this was an attack directed from abroad against the United States, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article V of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack against one ally is an attack against them all."

A NATO source said Robertson had called for the invoking Article Five for two reasons -- political solidarity with the U.S. and sending a message to terrorists that "we are prepared to face you collectively."

The proposal spells out the requirement that if one of NATO's members is attacked, all its allies would defend it.

Chapter Five says "an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack on all."

It requires each ally to assist the country attacked "by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with other parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."

It is the first time that an attack has taken place on the soil of a NATO member during its 52 years of existence.

NATO was not involved collectively in the 1991 Gulf War and has only ever taken joint military action in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia under non-Article V mandates.

NATO would require the U.S. to give it details of who had been responsible for the attack before any retaliatory action was offered.

The U.S. would have to go back to NATO to ask for specific kinds of support, but officials say invoking Article Five would provide on an "expedited basis" use of air space by the allies and make other kinds of assistance available.

Diplomats told Reuters it was a potent gesture of political support for Washington but it did not necessarily mean the allies would take collective military action.

Any decision to launch joint strikes on the culprits, once they were identified, would require further NATO deliberation, as would a decision to place national forces under NATO command.

European Union foreign ministers joined NATO's secretary-general in issuing a draft statement prepared for a unique session on Wednesday, which expressed "the most profound disgust at the terrorist attacks."

Robertson said: "We stand together. We are two organisations with one voice, one strong voice, that we will not stand for this terrorism."

EU Commission President Romano Prodi said: "In the darkest days of European history America stood close by us and today we stand close by America."

Security had been visibly tightened at both EU and NATO headquarters in Brussels.

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