WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed away on Wednesday from offering Georgia and Ukraine a formal roadmap to join NATO and said Britain had proposed finding other ways to bring them into the alliance.
NATO foreign ministers, including Rice, are expected to discuss Britain’s “idea” in Brussels next week, said the top U.S. diplomat. She made clear she would not press for the formal roadmap for the ex-Soviet states to get NATO membership, which is strongly opposed by Russia.
“There is a British idea ... that we look at different ways to fulfill the terms of the Bucharest declaration,” Rice told reporters, referring to a promise made at a NATO summit in the Romanian capital last April for Georgia and Ukraine to one day join the Western military alliance.
She gave no details about the British proposal but Britain, supportive overall of NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, has indicated there is no need to stick rigidly to the formal process being suggested by Washington.
The United States led a push for NATO to allow in both nations via a so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP), but resistance has been strong from France and Germany, in particular. That opposition has increased since Georgia’s brief war with Russia in August.
A MAP is a program of advice and practical support covering political, economic, defense and security cooperation designed to help aspiring countries prepare for membership.
Russia, a key energy supplier to Europe, vehemently opposes membership by Ukraine or Georgia to NATO and many European nations are reluctant to further antagonize Moscow by reviving the MAP issue.
Rice said she did not view MAP as the only route under which the two ex-Soviet states could gain membership and encouraged increased dialogue and activities, for example, via the NATO-Georgia Commission and the NATO-Ukraine Commission.
“Therefore there does not need to be at this point in time any discussion of MAP,” she said.
“The point of view of the United States was stated at Bucharest, that we think — thought — that MAP is a way to prepare countries for membership. But there are other ways to prepare countries for membership,” Rice said, adding that Poland and the Czech Republic gained membership other ways.
The United States and others have quietly been looking for face-saving options outside of MAP in a bid to revive membership hopes of Ukraine and Georgia.
Rice said Georgia and Ukraine were not yet ready for NATO membership “that is very clear” but that continuing to deal with the two via NATO commissions would send a “strong signal” that the alliance would “at some point” let them in.
A senior U.S. official said it was unclear what would emerge from the Brussels meeting but he hoped any declaration would repeat the promises made in Bucharest that both the former Soviet states would ultimately belong to NATO.
The NATO ministers are also expected to review a decision earlier this year to suspend high-level meetings on the main NATO-Russia dialogue forum, the NATO-Russia Council, following the conflict with Georgia.
On Tuesday, a senior State Department official, Matthew Bryza, said Russia had not heeded all its ceasefire obligations with Georgia and urged European allies not to forge closer ties with Moscow until all these were met.
In the wake of the war, Washington and NATO also canceled military exercises with Russian forces and Bryza said these should not be renewed until Moscow met all its commitments.
“We are definitely not at the point yet of favoring the resumption of military exercises when Russia’s military is occupying Georgia or Georgian territory. We are not there yet. I don’t know that any of our allies are there either,” he said.
Editing by Philip Barbara