Nine ex-communist NATO members, plus Canada, have urged the rest of the Atlantic alliance to overcome splits and open the door to former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia at its April summit, Lithuania said Thursday, according to AFP.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Violeta Gaizauskaite told AFP that Lithuania was among the 10 signatories of a letter addressed to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and copied to other member states.

She refused to give details of the content, but confirmed reports that it argued in favour of instigating a process that might lead to Georgia and Ukraine joining the alliance.

Gaizauskaite said the letter was also signed by Lithuania`s fellow 2004 NATO ex-communist entrants Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania, plus Poland and the Czech Republic, which joined in 1999, and Canada, a founder member in 1949.

"We indeed got the letter on Wednesday," a member state diplomat at NATO`s Brussels headquarters told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Russia vehemently opposes the NATO ambitions of neighbours and Soviet-era vassals Ukraine and Georgia, and has accused the Western alliance of trying to encircle it.

The Baltic News Service (BNS) agency reported that the letter said NATO`s April 2-4 summit in Romania must offer Ukraine and Georgia a "Membership Action Plan" (MAP).

Such accords have been used in the past to help other former communist bloc countries meet NATO standards and steer them into the Western military club, and both Kiev and Tbilisi have been lobbying hard for one.

BNS said the letter argued that giving Ukraine and Georgia a MAP would increase stability and security in Europe, and stressed that a failure to act at the Bucharest summit would dent NATO`s "open door" policy.

Gaizauskaite confirmed the BNS report was accurate.

Poland`s PAP news agency, meanwhile, reported that the letter warned that turning down Ukraine and Georgia would mean "losing a chance to anchor these countries" in the Western defence camp.

In the face of Russian opposition, the issue of ties between the 26-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Ukraine and Georgia is expected to be one of the highest-profile subjects on the table at the summit.

Scheffer has himself said the summit should give a clear signal the alliance`s door is open to both countries.

NATO works by consensus, so the unanimous approval of all members is required.

Despite support from NATO`s powerhouse the United States, plus Canada and most of the alliance`s ex-communist members, there is reticence among many other states.

The doubters include Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain, as well as ex-communist Hungary, which joined NATO in 1999, according to officials in several of the countries and NATO diplomats.

They are wary of provoking a further row with Moscow on top of a dispute over US plans to deploy an anti-missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland.

They are also worried that granting Ukraine and Georgia a MAP could be counter-productive, worsening Moscow`s already strained relations with Kiev and Tbilisi.

The sceptics also point to a lack of public backing in Ukraine for the NATO policy of the country`s pro-Western leaders.

While Georgians are mostly in favour, a concern there focuses on "frozen conflicts" with the potential to create problems for the entire alliance if Tbilisi is given a green light.

Separatists have controlled a swathe of northern Georgia since it broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in the 1990s.