U.S. to press NATO for Georgia, Ukraine boost
Rice has backed up a possible compromise formula
The United States will urge NATO on Tuesday to encourage Georgia and Ukraine to join the military alliance after European nations derailed President George W. Bush`s bid to put them on the track to membership, Reuters reported.
Bush, who hands over to President-elect Barack Obama in January, wanted as part of his legacy to set the ex-Soviet states on the established path to NATO, with formal roadmaps, or Membership Action Plans (MAPs).
The policy enraged Moscow while France and Germany -- worried about the reaction of a key energy supplier and arguing that neither Kiev nor Tbilisi was ready for such a step -- blocked the move at an April NATO summit in Bucharest.
That summit gave Georgia and Ukraine vague promises of eventual NATO entry and agreed to review their MAP requests by year-end. But Georgia`s August clash with Russia and Ukraine`s political chaos have only added to European doubts.
"I think you can talk about tactical differences among the allies but no one wants to see a circumstance in which Ukraine and Georgia are shut out," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
Rice -- at her last encounter with alliance counterparts -- has backed up a possible compromise formula of seeking to further Ukrainian and Georgian entry ambitions through the bilateral forums NATO has established with each country.
This has provoked German charges that the United States is trying to provide short-cuts to membership, something Washington denies. Berlin backs using those forums to supervise annual reform programs but insists MAPs eventually are still needed.
In a move that should be welcomed in Europe, Rice said she did not oppose "in principle" reviving contacts with Russia via a NATO-Russia Council (NRC) suspended after Russia`s Georgia invasion, something Germany and other allies have sought.
On Tuesday, the executive representing the 27 EU states, most of which belong to the NATO club of 26, will relaunch talks with Moscow on a broad pact covering trade and other relations suspended after the Georgia invasion.
A NATO diplomat said the NATO meeting could call for a review of relations with Russia for a NATO summit in April.
Rice cautioned against military contacts while Russian troops were still on Georgian territory. A senior U.S. official said the basis of the NRC -- that of NATO and Russia talking on an equal basis -- had been "called into question by Russia`s own actions" and needed to be reassessed.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the task was how to implement decisions taken in Bucharest and not whether Georgia and Ukraine one day should belong to NATO.
Georgia`s foreign minister Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili told a Brussels seminar Tbilisi recognized it was not yet ready for membership but it would be difficult to explain the failure to secure a formal invitation to the Georgian people.
However if the government could show it was making "steady progress" toward NATO, what it was called was less important.
Ukraine`s Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko also played down the issue.
"We received a clear NATO perspective in Bucharest," he told the German daily Welt. "A `yes` or `no` to MAP will not change anything. We will reach our goal."