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NATO leaders divided on Ukraine, Georgia
Journal Staff Report

BUCHAREST, April 2 - NATO leaders failed to reach consensus on opening the door to Georgia and Ukraine to joining the military alliance, The Associated Press reported Wednesday, citing a senior Bush administration official.

At a dinner ending the meeting's first day, they made no decisions about the former Soviet republics and did not resolve the issue of how to proceed at Thursday's sessions on the idea of giving those countries a plan for eventual NATO membership.

President Bush is lobbying for that, but has run into opposition, most notably from France and Germany. A NATO spokesman said he did not expect Georgia and Ukraine to be placed on track for membership at the summit.

Diplomats said the 26-nation alliance will offer a statement saying NATO's door will remain open in the future if they move ahead with political and military reforms.

The U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the leaders' meeting was private, said despite Bush's strong push, it still would be a success if NATO makes clear that the door to membership remains open, AP reported. The debate, according to the official, is whether the Bucharest meeting has to settle the question about Ukraine and Georgia.

At issue is whether Georgia or Ukraine will receive a membership action plan that could lead to membership in a number of years.

Bush has spent months trying to persuade Russia that it has nothing to fear from a missile defense shield in Europe, based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

"It looks like to me that the ingredients are coming together" for NATO to endorse the system, Bush said.

Bush plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday in the resort city of Sochi, the last such session of their presidencies. Bush is also to meet with Putin's hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev.

The White House is holding out hopes of an agreement easing Russia's opposition to a missile shield.

Bush said Putin should not fear NATO, but rather should welcome the alliance because it "is a group of nations dedicated to peace."

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Bush he echoed his optimism. He said NATO will "take a clear position on missile defense, recognizing the threat and working on the answers to that recognized threat."

Taking note of the dispute over Ukraine and Georgia, de Hoop Scheffer said: "If these nations fulfill the criteria, and if they want to enter ... themselves through NATO's open door, I think that door should be open."

Ahead of the Bush-Putin meeting, White House officials have raised expectations the talks could produce a breakthrough on missile defense as part of a broader "strategic framework" to define the relationship in several areas after Bush and Putin leave office, according to the AP report.

"I call it an opportunity to sit down and have a good, frank discussion again," Bush said. He said he will make clear to Putin that "the Cold War is over and Russia is not our enemy." (ap/ez)

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