As he signed NATO accession protocols for Albania and Croatia, US President George Bush pledged support for Georgia and Ukraine's aspirations to join the NATO alliance.
US President George W. Bush on Friday assured Georgia and Ukraine of US support for both former Soviet states to join the NATO alliance despite Russia's fierce opposition.
"Other nations seek a path to NATO membership, and they have the full support of the United States government," Bush said as he signed NATO accession protocols for Albania and Croatia, bringing them one step closer to membership.
"Today I reiterate America's commitment to the NATO aspirations of Ukraine, Georgia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and Montenegro," said the US president, who has made the alliance's eastward expansion a foreign policy priority.
Earlier, the White House said Bush still hopes that NATO will launch the process of admitting Georgia and Ukraine as members when the alliance meets in December even though France and Germany oppose the move.
And Moscow has warned it views NATO membership for Georgia, which fought a bitter war with Russia in August, and Ukraine, which is in the grips of political feuding between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions, as a security threat.
The White House ceremony came after Bush held talks with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on issues like the alliance's role in Afghanistan as well as the status of Albania and Croatia.
Neither leader explicitly mentioned Russia, but de Hoop Scheffer said "the Europe we are seeking to build should be a continent where nations are free to determine their own future and not have their future decided by others."
Bush said the United States also looked forward to seeing all nations in the Balkans join NATO -- including Macedonia, whose admission into the alliance has stalled because of its name dispute with Greece.
Greece vetoed an invitation for Macedonia to join NATO in August over a 17-year-old dispute about the right to the country's name, which is shared by a northern Greek province.
But "the great NATO alliance is holding a place for you at our table and we look forward to your admission as a full NATO member as soon as possible," the US president said to Macedonia's ambassador to the United States.
He also said the people of Serbia, an ally of Moscow, would also be welcome into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization "should they choose that path."
Earlier, Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino that there was "no reason" why Georgia and Ukraine should not be given a "membership action plan" (MAP) that lays out conditions to be fulfilled for joining NATO but does not guarantee entry.
Foreign ministers from the 26 NATO nations meet early next month, and Perino said Washington had seen "growing support for Georgia and Ukraine given what happened this summer when Russia invaded Georgia."
NATO members are divided, however, because they see that while membership could stabilize Georgia and Ukraine, it may also raise tensions with Moscow, which considers the move a threat to its own security.
The United States is lobbying NATO to grant membership, but France and Germany are opposed, arguing that the early August conflict between Russia and Georgia shows how the move could exacerbate tensions in the Caucasus region.
Within Ukraine, the population itself remains divided on possible NATO membership, with public opinion split on the nation's allegiances.
NATO has already expanded to take in a number of eastern European countries that were once part of the Moscow-controlled Warsaw Pact, despite pledges in the early 1990s not to rush any approach toward Russian borders.
Date created : 2008-10-25