U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones took over Friday as NATO's top commander, a job that looks set to start with preparing the alliance to provide Washington with military backup in case of a war with Iraq.
The first Marine to head the 19-nation alliance's troops, Jones, 59, was sworn in as Supreme Allied Commander Europe at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's military headquarters.
Among the 500 dignitaries attending the ceremony was Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz. He was seen talking to the chief of defense of the United Arab Emirates, a Persian Gulf state whose support Washington wants to enlist in any conflict with Iraq.
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said Jones, who grew up in Europe and speaks fluent French, was well qualified for his new job, having "one foot in Europe and one foot in the United States, a bridge across the Atlantic."
Jones replaces U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, who took command of NATO forces in 2000.
The United States formally asked its NATO allies Wednesday for indirect military assistance -- including the deployment of missiles to protect Turkey -- in case of war on Iraq over that nation's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
None of its requests, which also include access to airspace, bases and ports, would entail direct involvement by the alliance in an attack on Iraq.