Bush Urges NATO Membership for Ukraine, Georgia
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
President Bush has arrived in Romania for his last NATO Summit. He's pushing for the military alliance to expand by putting two former Soviet republics on the road to membership. The alliance is split over how to deal with Georgia and Ukraine's aspirations to join NATO. Russia strongly opposes letting them join; President Bush is all for it, and he spent most of the day in Ukraine to make that clear.
NPR's Michele Kelemen was there.
MICHELE KELEMEN: President Bush has been supporting Ukraine's aspirations to join NATO and sees the potential for its membership in the transatlantic alliance as a way to boost democratic reforms in the ex-Soviet state.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Helping Ukraine move toward NATO membership is in the interest of every member in the alliance and will help advance security and freedom in this region and around the world.
KELEMEN: Today, he had a chance to greet some high-stepping Ukrainian troops who welcomed him outside the Ukrainian president's office under a gray drizzly sky.
Pres. BUSH: (Speaking in foreign language)
Unidentified Group: (Speaking in foreign language)
KELEMEN: He noted that Ukraine has troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, and has been a key ally of the U.S. But there were also signs on this trip of just how divided Ukraine's public is over the government's pro-Western leanings. Ukrainian Communist Party protesters stayed up late last night in the central Kiev square to greet the president's motorcade with banners cursing Mr. Bush and NATO.
Ukraine's president, Viktor Yushchenko, said his government is only asking NATO for a so-called Membership Action Plan, or a MAP, a first small step on the path toward eventual membership. Speaking through an interpreter, he said he thinks Ukrainians will come to realize that its future is best protected under the NATO umbrella.
President VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO (Ukraine): (Through translator): We received full-fledged support from the USA in Ukraine's plan to join the MAP. And in the course of the Bucharest summit, I'm sure that we will receive a positive signal in Bucharest, and that's the spirit that we're going there with.
KELEMEN: Romania, one of the newer NATO members, is hosting this week's NATO summit where Ukraine's aspirations will be considered. Yushchenko may not have an easy time there though, both France and Germany have signaled they don't want to antagonize Russia over the Ukrainian and Georgian membership aspirations.
Russia remains a staunched opponent to further NATO expansion. Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters in a teleconference this week that NATO is a child of the Cold War still searching for its new identity. He said Russia doesn't see it as a force for democratization or stability.
Mr. DMITRY PESKOV (Kremlin Spokesman): We cannot agree that this policy ensures that further expanding of NATO eastward, towards the Russian borders, is playing a positive role in terms of creating stability, strengthening democracy and freedom in Europe.
KELEMEN: President Bush made clear Russia doesn't have veto power. And he dismissed speculation that the U.S. would ease off on this issue if only Russia would go along with U.S. plans for a missile defense system.
Pres. BUSH: There's no tradeoffs, period. As a matter of fact, I told that to President Putin on my phone call with him recently.
KELEMEN: He says Vladimir Putin should not fear NATO expansion nor the U.S. plans to use bases in Czech Republic and Poland for its missile defense system. Mr. Bush is raising some hopes that he and Putin can work through their dispute over missile defense when they meet this weekend in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Pres. BUSH: And I'm hopeful we can have some breakthroughs. We'll see. The other thing is is that this will be my last chance to visit with him face-to-face as - you know, I have worked with him for eight years. We've had a very interesting relationship, I like him. He's a - you know, he's a person that, you know, he's been a strong leader for Russia.
CONAN: White House officials seem eager to try to put the relationship on a better footing before both leaders leave office.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Kiev, Ukraine.
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