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Bush Urges NATO Enlargement, More Troops for Afghanistan

As NATO leaders gathered in Romania for summit talks, U.S. President George W. Bush urged the alliance to continue to expand eastward and to increase its presence in Afghanistan. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports in a speech in Bucharest, Mr. Bush laid out his NATO policy.

As he prepared to attend his final NATO summit, President Bush outlined his goals for the alliance.

In a speech to a group of security experts, broadcast live on Romanian television, he touched on familiar themes: the benefits of NATO expansion, the terrorist threat and the importance of the NATO military operation in Afghanistan.

Mr. Bush noted that during his time in office NATO has expanded to include new members from the Baltics to the Black Sea. He said Ukraine and Georgia should be given a chance.

"Here in Bucharest, we must make clear that NATO welcomes the aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine for their membership in NATO and offers them a clear path forward to meet that goal," he said.

But Russia is vehemently opposed. And France and Germany suggest now may not be the time to start the process of bringing the two former Soviet republics into the alliance.

Differences may also be looming at the summit over NATO troop levels in Afghanistan. In his speech, President Bush said more forces are needed.

"Afghanistan needs security, and that is what NATO is helping to provide," he said.

Later, Mr. Bush met with Romanian President Traian Basescu at his presidential retreat on the Black Sea.

At a joint news conference, he cited Romania's commitment to Afghanistan and again urged the alliance to bolster the current 47,000-troop level.

"We expect our NATO allies to shoulder the burden necessary to succeed," he said.

President Basescu picked up the theme.

"Any lack of success of NATO in Afghanistan will diminish dramatically the credibility of our organization," he said.

The two returned to Bucharest shortly before the summit began. Mr. Bush conferred privately with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer before joining other alliance leaders for an official working dinner.

Both the president and the secretary-general predicted positive summit outcomes on Afghanistan and plans to put a missile defense system in Europe.

"I am, like you, optimistic that this is going to be a very successful summit," he said.

At the end of the week, Russian President Vladimir Putin will join the NATO summit for a discussion of issues of keen interest to Moscow, most notably missile defense.

President Bush will also meet privately with Mr. Putin on Sunday at his home in Sochi - a Russian resort town on the Black Sea, just across from Romania. Mr. Bush says he expects it will be a frank discussion, noting they will be meeting for the last time before Vladimir Putin leaves office in May.