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NATO to debate about Ukraine, Georgia's accession
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22:13, December 02, 2008

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Foreign ministers from member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are meeting here on Tuesday and Wednesday to address the thorny issue of Ukraine and Georgia's accession to the alliance.

The ministers were commanded by NATO heads of states and governments in April to review Membership Action Plan (MAP) for the two former Soviet republics at this meeting. However, the issue has to be taken off the agenda as it becomes clear that consensus is impossible, particularly after a brief war between Georgia and Russia in early August.

European allies, which thwarted U.S. President George W. Bush's efforts to grant MAP to Ukraine and Georgia at a NATO summit held in the Romanian capital of Bucharest in April 2008, are less likely to give the green light at the meeting as they fear that MAP for the two countries will further enrage Russia, which has already threatened to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania.

MAP has been a mandatory procedure for aspiring countries to join NATO since 1999.

Since MAP looks impossible at the moment, NATO foreign ministers will now debate the way forward on the two countries' accession, specifically, whether MAP shall be dropped at all.

Prior to the meeting, U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, floated the idea of bypassing the MAP issue and engaging in practical support to bring the two countries closer to NATO.

"The problem we have is that ... the Membership Action Plan is now something that has become so politicized that we can't agree to use it. So we've got to find a way forward where we actually are able to work with these countries and help them through this reform process that is necessary and will take some time to come," Volker said in a video message.

He argued that bypassing MAP could avoid disputes within NATO and with Russia. "If we do that, I think we can deescalate the issue, we can avoid a confrontation and just get the work done that needs to be done. The problem is that if we don't do that, then we're going to face a crisis within NATO every time we meet. Is it MAP? Is it not MAP? What do we do?"

However, Germany has made clear its opposition to what it sees as U.S. efforts to offer the two countries entry shortcut.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Monday's Handelsblatt newspaper that his country had not changed its position since the April NATO summit.

"We gave Georgia and Ukraine a NATO prospect, but also stressed that both don't qualify for a candidate yet. We will help, but I see no reason at this stage to go beyond what was agreed then," he said in an interview.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied that her country intended to give shortcuts to the two countries. In her trip to London on Monday, Rice said there was a long road ahead for both countries to be ready for NATO membership.

"The United States stands resolutely for those (accession) standards, meaning that there should be no short-cuts to membership of NATO," she told a press conference.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai Monday refused to say whether MAP would be dropped.

"There had been until 1999 no MAP. Since then MAP has been the process. I can't prejudge what will happen in the future," he told a briefing.

He said the foreign ministers would reaffirm that the principles agreed at the April summit "remain valid in their entirety."

MAP was launched in 1999 to accommodate the accession of former Warsaw Pact countries. Under MAP, aspiring countries submit annual national programs in political, economic, defense, security and legal fields with a view to meet NATO standards. NATO provides assistance and advice and assesses progress each year.

During the two-day meeting, the NATO foreign ministers will also discuss NATO's relations with Russia, which were strained after the Georgia-Russia military conflict in August.

The alliance takes issue with Moscow on its recognition of Georgia's two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. But Russia argues that the United States and other Western countries recognized the independence of Kosovo under similar circumstances.

It remains unclear whether NATO foreign ministers will decide to resume the NATO-Russia Council at ambassadorial level, which has been suspended since August.

The ministers may also discuss Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's proposal on a pan-European security architecture, said NATO officials.

Also on the agenda of the meeting are NATO's operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as its anti-piracy campaign off Somalia.


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