Mission, Membership Key Issues for Bush at NATO
The current meeting of NATO leaders in Bucharest, Romania, offers President George Bush his last major chance to argue for one of his key foreign-policy objectives — continued expansion of the alliance's mission and its membership.
Bush wanted a bigger commitment of troops and resources to NATO's operation in Afghanistan, and he wanted to bring more former Soviet-bloc nations into the organization — a move that Russian President Vladimir Putin has strongly opposed.
Here are some of the items on the summit agenda that are most important to the United States:
Afghanistan: The United States, Canada, Britain and the Netherlands have called on their NATO partners to commit more fighting troops, especially to Afghanistan's southern provinces. That's where a resurgent Taliban has been more aggressive in the past year than at any time since the Islamic fundamentalist government was overthrown in 2001.
In comments leading up to the summit, Bush referred to expectations that France would add another 1,000 soldiers to the 1,500 it already has deployed to Afghanistan. Sarkozy said on Thursday that the number would be closer to 700, and it's still not clear how many troops other nations may offer. The United States currently has the largest number of foreign troops in Afghanistan — about 26,000.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are attending the summit to push for better coordination of military operations and development efforts in the country.
New NATO Members: The president failed to convince other NATO members that the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia should officially be put on track to join the alliance. But leaders at the summit did issue a statement welcoming the aspirations of the two former Soviet republics to join NATO and promising that they will eventually be members.
France and Germany were among the allies who voiced doubts about whether Georgia and Ukraine were ready to begin the membership process. Russia opposes NATO membership for the two countries, fearing the expansion of a potentially hostile military alliance along its borders. The NATO alliance was formed after World War II in large part to contain the former Soviet Union. Russia is not a member, but Russian President Vladimir Putin is attending the summit as an observer.
As expected, NATO did invite Croatia and Albania to join the 26 current members. Macedonia was also in line to join, but alliance members told the former Yugoslav Republic it must first resolve a dispute with Greece over its name.
Missile Defense: Alliance members issued a communique saying they accept a controversial Bush administration plan to locate parts of an anti-missile defense system in central Europe. The plan calls for interceptor missiles to be deployed in Poland, with radar detector installations in the Czech Republic.
President Bush says the system is designed to protect against missile attacks from countries such as Iran. Russia's President Putin opposes the plan, saying it would upset the strategic balance in the region by putting Russia at a military disadvantage.
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