Germany insisted on Tuesday there were no grounds for NATO to deepen ties with Ukraine and Georgia for now, rejecting a U.S. bid aimed at advancing the two ex-Soviet states` membership prospects, Reuters reported.
At a meeting of alliance foreign ministers, European capitals urged NATO to study resuming full contacts with Russia that were scaled down after Moscow`s incursion into Georgia in August, but Washington is reluctant to make any early move.
President George W. Bush, who hands over to President-elect Barack Obama in January, had 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).
But that policy enraged Moscow while France and Germany -- worried about the reaction of a key energy supplier and arguing that neither Kiev nor Tbilisi were 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 hope we will agree to stick with the agreement from Bucharest. I see no reason to go beyond that for now," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters as he arrived for the two-day meeting in Brussels.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has backed a possible compromise of seeking to advance Ukrainian and Georgian entry hopes through the bilateral forums which NATO has already established with each country.
Berlin has accused the United States of trying to provide short-cuts to membership, something Washington denies. Germany backs using those forums to supervise annual reform programmes but insists MAPs are still needed eventually.
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.
But, referring to Russian troops still in the Georgia breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, she added:
"I think you`d want to be very careful, for instance, about doing things that look military-to-military, because the Russian military is still sitting in the secessionist states."
The European Union is due later on Tuesday to formally restart talks on a partnership accord with Russia that were frozen in the wake of the August conflict, and many European nations are pushing for NATO to ramp up ties with Moscow again.
"I think the time has come to resume negotiations (with Russia on cooperation)," said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, proposing a start with ambassadorial contacts and a full resumption at leader-level by a NATO summit next April.
A NATO diplomat said the NATO meeting could call for a review of relations with Russia for a NATO summit in April.