World Bulletin / News Desk
NATO will stop short of approving a formal step to membership for Georgia at its summit in September, officials said on Wednesday, dodging a possible confrontation with Moscow over the alliance's expansion to Russia's neighbours.
NATO members agreed in principle to draw up a "substantive package" of cooperation with Georgia that would help it move closer to NATO, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters at a meeting of alliance foreign ministers.
But that falls short of an invitation to join NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) - a formal step towards membership - that Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia in 2008, had hoped for.
Putting Georgia on a path to NATO membership would have angered Russia, which is deeply hostile to the Western military alliance advancing into former Soviet republics, and some allies feared it could provoke Russian retaliation.
Welcoming Georgia into the alliance would mean NATO could be obliged to go to its defence in the event of another war with Russia.
And with NATO-Russia tensions running high after Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, any invitation to Georgia to join the MAP has become even more of a political hot potato.
Russia, which has said that its annexation of Crimea in March was influenced by the Western military alliance's expansion into eastern Europe, has made no secret of its opposition to its neighbour Georgia joining NATO.
Although Rasmussen insisted that "NATO's door remains open" to new members and that no other country had a veto over NATO enlargement, NATO diplomats said the standoff over Ukraine did influence the debate.
Some allies, particularly in the Baltics and eastern Europe, said NATO should send a tough message to Moscow by inviting Georgia to join the MAP - a programme of advice, assistance and support tailored to countries wishing to join the alliance.
Montenegro's hopes of receiving an invitation to join the alliance at September's summit in Wales were also dashed, with NATO delaying a decision on whether to admit the small Balkan country until next year.
NATO's doors 'open' to new members
NATO’s door remains open and no third country has a veto over NATO enlargement, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday at the beginning of the second day of meetings of NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers.
"Each country will continue to be judged on its merits. Each one has work to do in different areas, and we will give aspirants the support they need to get them through the door," the Secretary-General said.
Rasmussen noted that NATO’s open door policy has been a historic success, spreading peace and cooperation across Europe in an unprecedented way, and added that the upcoming summit in Wales in September will mark that success and maintain the momentum.
"On Montenegro, we will open intensified and focused talks, and we will assess, at the latest by the end of 2015, whether to invite Montenegro to join the Alliance," he said.
Rasmussen said that the ministers would advance today on preparations for the Wales Summit, which "takes place at a critical moment for our security, when we face old threats and new, from Eastern Europe to North Africa and the Middle East." He said that they would be reviewing the measures already taken to strengthen the alliance's collective defence.
"At the same time, we will agree on a package of long-term support measures for Ukraine, including the creation of new trust funds," the Secretary-General said.
"Russia’s aggression against Ukraine led to the suspension of our practical cooperation, and I regret to say that we see no signs that Russia is respecting its international commitments. So today we will review our relations with Russia and decide what to do next."
He added that as Russia uses a different type of warfare against Ukraine, the alliance will discuss how to deal with ambiguous threats in the longer term.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlov Klimkin is expected to update the allies about the latest situation in the country at a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission Wednesday.
Reassurance on Turkey protection
NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Wednesday reassured NATO's support for Turkey's defense and protection referring to the incidents in Iraq following the rebellion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Voicing his concern on the latest developments in Iraq, Rasmussen said NATO was in cooperation with its allies, including Turkey and that it would not hesitate to take the necessary steps to defend and protect Turkey.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is expected to hold bilateral meetings with several of his counterparts during the course of the day.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 25 Haziran 2014, 16:44