NATO endorses missile shield

2 countries gain membership, but alliance rebuffs Bush's effort for others

April 04, 2008|By New York Times News Service

BUCHAREST, Romania -- NATO countries unanimously endorsed Bush administration plans for installing a missile defense system in alliance countries in Europe yesterday even as they rebuffed President Bush's entreaties to extend membership of the alliance to the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia.

The unusually rancorous meeting of NATO members in Bucharest exposed sharp differences between nations, but despite the rancor Bush won some agreement on bolstering the number of NATO troops in Afghanistan and presenting a united front against Russia's objections on the issue of missile defense.

After hours of negotiations, the countries agreed to extend membership to Croatia and Albania, but they rejected a membership request by Macedonia, which had been championed by the United States, prompting Macedonian officials to storm out of the meeting.

Bush had pressed the case for Ukraine and Georgia, leading to a direct confrontation with key allies Germany and France, which raised Russia's concerns about NATO expanding directly into the heart of the former Soviet empire.

In heated negotiations Wednesday night and yesterday, leaders argued over the exact wording of the final communique, in particular how to frame the rejection of Ukraine and Georgia. In the end, they only offered rhetorical support for these countries' aspirations, saying only that they would be members of NATO one day.

NATO's votes on membership were held in secret, but Bush's national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, said half of the NATO allies supported inviting Ukraine and Georgia now.

Seeking to put the best face on a defeat, he said NATO's foreign ministers would reconsider the issue again in December.

Russia welcomed the decision on Ukraine and Georgia, describing it as logical, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.

"I strongly doubt that Georgia will be able to settle its territorial problems, or Ukraine to change the current share of NATO sympathizers in less than a year," said Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin.

Bush, addressing his NATO colleagues, praised the decision to welcome Croatia and Albania as new members but expressed regret that Macedonia was rebuffed. Other NATO members voted against Macedonia in sympathy with Greece's objections over Macedonia's name, which Greek leaders argue implies territorial ambitions on the northern part of their country, also called Macedonia.

"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."

In his remarks, Bush did not mention Ukraine and Georgia. He had lobbied intensively for their inclusion, including in a visit to Ukraine on the eve of this summit.

"We must give other nations seeking membership a full and fair hearing," he said. "As we invite new members today we're also clear that the progress of enlargement will continue."

On Afghanistan, France offered to send a battalion of troops to the eastern part of the country. A senior Bush administration official briefing reporters said that move would free U.S. forces to move south, where NATO troops are struggling to suppress the Taliban-led insurgency. That struggle has been led by the Canadians, who have warned they would withdraw their forces unless they received additional troops.

Bush praised French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the administration official said, saying his trip to the United States in the fall had an impact "like the latest incarnation of Elvis."

Bush, entering his last NATO summit meeting as president, had argued hard for Ukraine and Georgia to be welcomed into a membership action plan, or MAP, that prepares nations for NATO membership. He was described by officials as wanting to "lay down a marker" for his legacy and not wanting to "lose faith" with Ukrainians and Georgians and the other former Soviet republics.

As Bush did more often early in his presidency, he expressed his views candidly despite warnings from allies that he was complicating efforts to find diplomatic solutions.

Normally, summit meetings like this are scripted, but Bush's position added some extra interest while annoying Germany and France, which had said they would block the invitation to Ukraine and Georgia.

The German and French position was supported by Italy, Hungary and the Benelux countries, a senior German official said.

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