The Pentagon says U.S. support for efforts by Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO does not necessarily mean the countries will join the alliance anytime soon. But a spokesman says Defense Secretary Robert Gates agrees it is time to start what could be a long process. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
A spokesman says Secretary Gates discussed Georgia's effort to begin the NATO membership process during a meeting with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili at the Pentagon on Thursday. That was the day after President Bush met with the Georgian president and said he will urge NATO leaders at their summit in Bucharest next month to approve Georgia's Membership Action Plan.
Russia opposes the plan for the former Soviet Republics to join the western alliance. But Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says even with Membership Action Plans that will likely not happen for a long time.
"I think it's important not to confuse MAP with membership," he noted. "It is what its name implies it is. It's a Membership Action Plan. You know that three of the countries that are up for membership in Bucharest, Croatia, Albania and Macedonia have been going through MAP for the past decade. So this can be a long process. And it's designed to encourage democratic and military reforms, and along the way to, sort of, recognize the progress they've made."
Morrell notes that countries with a NATO Membership Action Plan do not come under the alliance's protection unless and until they actually join, which must be approved by all the other members.
NATO leaders are expected to issue formal invitations to Croatia, Albania and Macedonia at their summit in April. Albania and Macedonia have been working on their membership plans for nine years, and Croatia has been working on its plan for six years.