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NATO Summit Focuses on Afghanistan, Alliance Enlargement


The NATO summit has convened in formal session in Bucharest, Romania. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports members are focusing on military operations in Afghanistan and how and when to enlarge the alliance.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called the summit to order, with a tribute to alliance troops killed in the line of duty.

"May I now ask you to join me in a moment of silence to pay homage to all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice by laying down their life in the service of our alliance," he said.

A line of 26 soldiers -- each wearing the uniform of a NATO-member nation -- walked into the room. As the heads of state and government stood in silence, a lone trumpeter played a tribute to the dead.

President Bush has described Afghanistan as the most daring and ambitious mission in the history of the alliance. NATO officials say there is consensus among member countries that this mission must succeed.

One by one, member countries are announcing plans to step up their commitment.

France is sending a battalion of troops to eastern Afghanistan to free up American marines, who will be redeployed in the troubled south. Canada currently has the largest NATO contingent in the south and has threatened to pull its forces out, if no reinforcements are sent.

But there is expected to be far less unity at the Bucharest summit on Georgia and Ukraine's bid to be put on a path to NATO membership. A NATO spokesman says it appears they will not get the unanimous vote required.

Russia vehemently opposes bringing the two former Soviet republics into the alliance. And, France and Germany have indicated they do not believe now is the time to admit these two countries to the lengthy membership process.

Two Balkan nations that have completed that process -- Albania and Croatia -- will get formal invitations to join the alliance at the Bucharest summit. Alliance members have also agreed that Macedonia meets the criteria for membership, but Greece has vowed to block approval because of a name dispute.

There is also a Macedonia region in Greece, and Athens wants Macedonia the country to change its name to reflect the difference.

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