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Afghanistan, Expansion to Top NATO Summit in Bucharest


Leaders from the 26-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization hold their summit this week in Bucharest, Romania. Topping the agenda will be what to do to help stabilize Afghanistan and what additional countries NATO may invite to join the alliance. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London.

There have been dire reports in recent months about the situation in Afghanistan and warnings of potentially disastrous consequences if NATO does not pull together to send more troops and equipment.

Afghanistan will be the main issue at the Bucharest summit and NATO spokesman James Appathurai told VOA in an interview that NATO members are expected to reaffirm their long-term commitment and to stress the importance of getting the Afghans and the larger international community more involved.

"NATO is not alone in Afghanistan, we should not be alone in Afghanistan, and we alone can not provide the solutions for Afghanistan," he said. "We need the U.N., we need the EU, we need the World Bank, we need the Afghans all to do more and we all need to do more together. The comprehensive approach will be to look at Afghanistan in a regional context. That includes very much a relationship with Pakistan and deepening our relationship with the new government in Pakistan as we go forward."

Appathurai said NATO welcomes the expected announcement by France that it will send additional troops to Afghanistan.

The summit will also focus on NATO enlargement - what countries get in and which ones get the nod of approval to begin the membership process.

"There are three countries in the Western Balkans that are aspiring to join. That is Croatia, Albania, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," Appathurai said. "We will see in Bucharest if zero, one, two or three will get invitations. Georgia and Ukraine both made public their aspirations to enter the ante-chamber as it were, join the membership action plan, which does not mean membership, but they are on the membership track without any specific timeline for when they can get in."

Albania and Croatia are widely expected to get a formal invitation to join NATO while the status of Macedonia is less clear.

NATO enlargement has been a contentious issue at times, not only among NATO members, but also with Russia, which sees the expansion of the alliance eastward as a threat.

NATO spokesman Appathurai says Russia need not worry, but should be brought into discussions on the issue.

"It is true that Russia is concerned about this," he said. "Our point of view is the successive rounds of NATO enlargement have clearly demonstrated that NATO enlargement builds stability and security where it takes place. So we believe it is the right thing to do for all of Europe and that any other country, even outside of NATO, benefits from it. That being said, Russia has concerns. We should talk to Russia about those concerns and we do to try and assuage them."

NATO leaders will get a chance to discuss the issue with outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will be at the Bucharest summit.

U.S. President George W. Bush has said he is in favor of Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO. Germany and France are among the member states against the idea, fearing it would hamper efforts to improve relations with Russia.

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