- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 3, 2008

BUCHAREST, Romania — The Bush administration yesterday backed off its insistence that two former Soviet bloc countries be invited to enter NATO’s membership process at today’s summit, after European countries refused to bow to U.S. pressure.

Following a three-hour dinner with the other 25 leaders of NATO-member countries, a NATO spokesman said that Georgia and Ukraine will not be invited at this summit into the Membership Action Plan (MAP).

“We are convinced that it is too early to grant both states the status,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel after arriving here for the summit.

The White House, which had maintained that an invitation was still possible this week, denied that pressure from Russia, which has leaned heavily on traditional U.S. allies Germany and France, has had a veto effect on Georgia and Ukraine’s aspirations.

And a senior Bush administration official insisted that today’s meetings will bring “a successful day.”

But one day after Mr. Bush stopped in Ukraine and promised to “work as hard as I can to see to it that Ukraine and Georgia are accepted into MAP,” his top advisers had to define success broadly to remain upbeat.

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  • “I think it’s not a question of defeat,” said the senior official, who spoke to reporters on the condition that he not be identified. “The question will be if the alliance can come together and show that the door remains open and can show that the process of new members coming into NATO continues, that will be a success.”

    NATO-expansion proponents, headed by the U.S., received another blow when it was announced that Macedonia, which had hoped to be accepted into NATO as a full member along with Croatia and Albania, would be blocked by Greece’s opposition.

    NATO operates by consensus, so one member can stop entry into the alliance.

    Questions also swirled about whether the U.S. may be forced to increase its surge in troops to Afghanistan, after troop commitments from France came into question. Canada has said it will withdraw its 2,500 troops in Afghanistan if NATO allies do not provide 1,000 additional soldiers.

    France had reportedly promised such a boost, but then on Tuesday a French official mentioned that his country was thinking of adding troops in the hundreds.

    The White House, however, said the increase over the past week of U.S. Marines going to Afghanistan — it had been 3,200 and is now 3,500 — was not a response to other allies backing down.

    “As you move closer to the deployment, the numbers get refined,” said a White House official.

    NATO spokesman James Appathurai said NATO allies had put together 1,000 additional troops to send to Afghanistan, but did not say who will provide them.

    Mr. Bush will travel to Russia at the end of the week, after the summit ends and after a visit to Croatia to celebrate its presumed entrance into NATO.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mr. Bush will meet for what is expected to be the last time as heads of state, and it will escape neither man’s notice that Mr. Bush was unable to overcome Russian opposition to NATO’s expansion east, closer to Russia’s border.

    Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, 10 states that were members of the Soviet bloc have joined NATO, and Mr. Bush has pressed during his seven years in office for a missile-defense system based in two of those countries, Poland and the Czech Republic.

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