Speaking today at NATO's summit in Bucharest, Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance wants to welcome Ukraine and Georgia as members someday. But he said the next step in their process of preparing for membership -- the granting of Membership Action Plans (MAPs) -- would have to await further dialogue.
"Today, we make clear that we support these countries' applications for MAP," he said. "Therefore, we will now begin a period of intensive engagement with both at a high political level to address the questions still outstanding pertaining to their MAP applications. We have asked [NATO] foreign ministers to make a first assessment of progress at their December 2008 meeting."
De Hoop Scheffer was speaking to reporters as the summit moved through its first working day -- a day that has been dominated by the fates of European countries that hope to one day join it. Ukraine and Georgia have been most in the spotlight as differences over whether to issue MAPs to them persisted right up to the summit's opening at a dinner on April 2.
Before arriving at the summit, U.S. President George W. Bush said during a visit to Kyiv on April 1 that Washington wanted the two countries to move closer to the alliance.
"We support [Membership Action Plan] for Ukraine and Georgia," Bush said. "Helping Ukraine move toward NATO membership is in the interest of every member in the alliance and will help advance security and freedom in this region and around the world."
But both Germany and France expressed reservations about issuing the Membership Action Plans. And part of the reason may have been the anger which Moscow has expressed at the idea.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this week that Georgia and Ukraine were "shamelessly" being pushed toward joining NATO, and he accused the United States of "infiltrating" ex-Soviet states.
It now remains to be seen -- possibly before the Bucharest summit ends on April 4 - what form NATO's further dialogue with Kyiv and Tbilisi may take.
Meanwhile, the NATO secretary-general said the alliance has decided to invite Albania and Croatia to join. But a third Balkan country, Macedonia, will have to wait a bit longer. Greece has blocked Macedonia's entry due to a dispute over the country's name, which Athens says implies territorial ambitions. Greece also has a region named Macedonia.
Bush told the summit today that he regrets that the name dispute continues to hold up Skopje's membership invitation.
"We regret that we were not able to reach consensus today to invite Macedonia to join the alliance," Bush said. "Macedonia has made difficult reforms at home. It is making major contributions to NATO missions abroad. The name issue needs to be resolved quickly so that Macedonia can be welcomed into NATO as soon as possible."
A Macedonian envoy to NATO, Nikola Dimitrov, is quoted as saying NATO's rejection is "a huge disappointment" and a blow to Balkan stability. It is not yet clear what NATO may offer Macedonia as a consolation for having to wait. That, too, is only likely to become clearer in the coming hours.
The other main item on the summit agenda is Afghanistan, and how much NATO members will increase their troop commitments there.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai removed some of the suspense around that issue by saying on April 2 that France has offered "a substantial military contribution to the operation in Afghanistan."
Appathurai said the French offer to send more troops to eastern Afghanistan frees Washington to move additional troops south to bolster Canadian forces there. He also said that move will satisfy Canada's demands for more NATO troops in the south if it is to keep its forces in the combat area.
... Payvand News - 04/03/08 ... --