U.S. President George W. Bush expressed support for Ukraine and Georgia as they move towards NATO membership, ahead an alliance summit in Romania where opposition from fellow European countries will be likely.
Bush kicked off a weeklong trip of Eastern Europe by meeting with President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine, who faces fierce opposition at home, France and from its biggest neighbor, Russia, as it moves towards establishing NATO membership.
Your country has made a bold decision and the United States strongly supports your request, Bush said at a press conference with Yushchenko during his first visit to Ukraine.
NATO's biggest-ever gathering begins Wednesday in Bucharest, Romania, and is set to consider full membership for three countries - Croatia, Albania and Macedonia - and discuss plans for potential membership for Ukraine and Georgia.
Bush said the U.S. wants to see former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia issued with the Membership Action Plan (MAP) - a formal first step countries undergo before joining NATO.
I strongly believe that Ukraine and Georgia should be given MAP and there's no trade-offs, period, Bush said. Helping Ukraine move towards NATO membership is in the interest of every member of the alliance and will help advance security and freedom around the world.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the summit on Wednesday to state Moscow's case against NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. Russia has warned that this would deal a blow to security in Europe and has accused the West of dragging Ukraine and Georgia into NATO against the will of their people. At home in Ukraine, over 60 percent are opposed to NATO membership.
Yushchenko conceded that Ukraine's membership with NATO will be the only way to guarantee Ukraine's sovereignty from Russia.
Germany and France said they would oppose invitations for Ukraine and Georgia on concerns that it will harm their relations with Russia.
We are opposed to the entry of Georgia and Ukraine because we think that it is not a good answer to the balance of power within Europe and between Europe and Russia, the French prime minister, François Fillon told the Agence France-Presse.
Heads of state and government from the 26 NATO nations will meet in Romania early April to discuss NATO enlargement and operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
The three-day Summit will include meetings in its different divisions, namely the North Atlantic Council (NAC), the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) and the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC).