Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, on Wednesday pulled back from the country’s goal of putting Georgia and Ukraine in Nato’s membership action plan (MAP) after opposition from some of the alliance’s European members, The Financial Times reported.

MAP status for Georgia and Ukraine – often seen as a staging post to joining the alliance – was a high-profile goal for President George W. Bush at Nato’s Bucharest summit in April, but the US was unable to win the backing of some countries, such as France and Germany.

Instead, the summit made a broader, less specific declaration that “these countries will become members of Nato” and gave foreign ministers the authority to decide on the two countries’ MAP applications at a meeting next week.

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However, US officials have recently conceded that they had no hope of winning consensus support for giving Kiev and Tbilisi the green light at next week’s meeting.

“We believe that the Nato-Georgia Commission and the Nato-Ukraine Commission can be the bodies with which we intensify our dialogue and our activities,” Ms Rice said at a press conference on Wednesday, referring to two consultative bodies that meet at Nato’s Brussels headquarters. “And, therefore, there does not need at this point in time to be any discussion of MAP.”

The US decision not to proceed with the debate about giving the two countries MAP status smooths the way for president-elect Barack Obama’s first Nato summit in April next year.

Mr Obama supports MAP for both countries, but faced difficult obstacles in overcoming European concerns at the summit, to be held in France and Germany. Now he is likely to find it easier to focus on his main demand on his Nato partners – more support for the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan.

Some European diplomats have argued that once MAP status was granted pressure would mount to admit Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance during the next few years – a prospect they wished to avoid.

In particular, French and German officials have frequently voiced doubts about whether Nato could effectively defend Georgia and have indicated nervousness about the allegedly impetuous leadership of Mikheil Saakashvili, the country’s president – worries that only intensified after the Georgia-Russia war last August.

While countries such as Poland and the Baltic states have championed the entry of both Georgia and Ukraine, French and German officials have on occasion expressed sympathy for Russia’s complaint that it is being “encircled” by Nato expansion.

The US is eager to avoid any impression that Nato’s discussion of MAP is influenced by Moscow’s virulent opposition to either former Soviet state joining the alliance.

Ms Rice referred to what she called a British idea that Nato focus on alternatives to MAP to fulfil the Bucharest summit’s promise of full Nato membership for both countries.

The Financial Times