NATO nixes Georgia, Ukraine membership

18_1.jpg NATO decided Thursday not to put Georgia and Ukraine on track to join the alliance after vehement Russian opposition, but the alliance pledged that the strategically important Black Sea nations will become members one day.Senior American officials also said that NATO leaders agreed to fully endorse U.S. missile defense plans for Europe and urge Russia to drop its objections to the system.

 

French and German concern over Russia’s reaction dashed the two former Soviet republics’ hopes of being granted a “membership action plan” that bring them into the alliance within the next five to 10 years.

 

But alliance Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said NATO welcomes the countries’ aspirations to join. “We agree today that these countries will become members of NATO,” he said.

 

Greek opposition also meant that Macedonia was excluded, though NATO did agree to invite the Balkan nations of Albania and Croatia.

 

“This is a huge disappointment,” said Macedonian government negotiator Nikola Dimitrov. “It goes against the values that stand behind NATO. It’s very much against stability in the Balkans.”

 

There was brighter news for NATO: French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced he was sending a battalion of troops and elite special forces – expected to total around 1,000 soldiers – to bolster the fight against Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

 

NATO foreign ministers will review Ukraine and Georgia’s applications again in December, de Hoop Scheffer said.

 

Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were concerned about provoking Moscow, which has warned of a new East-West crisis if NATO takes in the two republics. Both are on Russia’s southwestern border, across key east-west oil and gas routes.

 

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko insisted that “Ukraine will be in NATO” one day.

 

Pro-Western governments in both republics had earlier warned that a failure to launch the membership process in Bucharest would be a bitter blow and a boost for pro-Russian forces in their countries.

 

“A ‘no’ for Georgia will show those people in the Kremlin who think that by a policy of blackmail, by arrogance and aggression” they can influence NATO’s decisions, Georgia’s Foreign Minister David Bakradze said. “A ‘no’ will be seen by those people as a victory.”

 

The NATO summit also gave a broad endorsement to U.S. plans to base elements of its missile defenses in Europe, despite Russia’s objections.

 

De Hoop Scheffer said a summit communique would recognize the protection the system will give to Europe from long-range ballistic missile threats, particularly from the Middle East. Russia fiercely opposes the plan.

 

The allies will also move ahead with a complementary system of short-range missile defenses to cover parts of Turkey, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria that would fall outside the U.S. shield.

 

Greece blocked the alliance from invited Macedonia to join NATO because of Athens’ objections to the country’s name. However, leaders said Macedonia can join as soon as it resolves the dispute.

 

Greece has a northern province that is also called Macedonia, and contends the former Yugoslav republic’s insistence on being known as Macedonia implies a territorial claim.

 

Following their invitations, Croatia and Albania are expected to join NATO within the next two years, following parliamentary ratification of their entry. “It’s a great day not only for Croatia but also for our region,” said Ivo Sanader, Croatia’s prime minister.

 

The French offer of troops for Afghanistan will free up American troops to move south to Kandahar province. That averts the risk of a crisis within the NATO forces triggered by Canada’s threat to pull out its 2,500 beleaguered soldiers there unless they got 1,000 reinforcements from another ally.

 

Sarkozy also told the NATO summit that he will decide next year on a French return to the alliance’s integrated military command, more than four decades since Gen. Charles de Gaulle pulled out.

 

Both moves are a sign of Sarkozy’s policy of drawing closer to the U.S.-led NATO alliance, although his speech also stressed France’s desire to build up the defense role of the European Union.

 

The deployment in Afghanistan follows months of lobbying by the United States to persuade European allies to send more troops to the front lines of the fight against the Taliban.

 

“Afghanistan is a strategic issue for international security. It’s a central issue for relations between Islam and the West,” Sarkozy said. “It’s essential for the alliance.”

 

France currently has 1,430 troops serving as part of the 47,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan.

 

The new French troops – and the imminent arrival of 3,200 extra U.S. Marines – would give added weight to a “vision statement” the leaders are scheduled to adopt Thursday. NATO is seeking to reassure it has a long-term commitment to Afghanistan and trying to boost flagging public support for the mission in the face of growing Taliban violence.

 

Leading European allies, including Germany, Italy, Turkey and Spain, are still refusing to send combat troops to the Afghan front lines because of the unpopularity of the war at home.

 

NATO also agreed that its 60th anniversary summit next year will be held jointly in the French border city of Strasbourg and its German neighbor, Kehl.

Souce: Agencies

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