Discussions at the NATO summit focused on the alliance's mission in Afghanistan and a planned new missile shield for Europe. Croatia and Albania were formally invited to join, while Macedonia was not.
Chancellor Merkel publicly disagreed with Bush about NATO's eastwards expansion
NATO leaders were set on Thursday, April 3, to endorse a planned US missile shield for Europe, a senior US official told reporters.
The final summit statement would "recognize the substantive contribution to the protection of the allies" from the missile defense system to be deployed in the Czech Republic and Poland, the official told reporters.
"The United States and the Czech Republic are pleased to announce the completion of negotiations on a missile-defense agreement. We plan to sign the agreement in the near future," a statement said.
The US official also said that President George W. Bush had confirmed to the summit leaders that the US will be able to move some of its troops to Afghanistan's south once France sends a battalion of troops to the east of Afghanistan, meeting Canada's conditions to keep troops in Afghanistan until 2011, the official said. Ottawa had said it would pull its 2,500 troops out next year if reinforcements were not forthcoming.
Sarkozy said France was willing to deploy additional troops to Afghanistan
French President Nicolas Sarkozy had said earlier France would send a battalion of troops to the east of Afghanistan as part of efforts to bolster the 47,000-strong peacekeeping force.
"I have decided to reinforce the French military presence with one battalion deployed in the east region," President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a speech delivered at the summit, the AFP news agency reported.
The offer, which French military sources put at between 800 and 1,000 soldiers, came amid French plans for a return to NATO's military command next year after more than four decades of absence.
"At the end of the French presidency of the European Union, the moment will have come to conclude this process and to make the necessary decisions for France to take its full place in NATO's structures," Sarkozy said. Paris is set to take over the rotating EU presidency in July.
Staying in Afghanistan as long as it takes
It was good news for US President George W. Bush, who on Wednesday had urged NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, stressing that the 26-nation trans-Atlantic alliance could not afford to lose its battle against Taliban insurgents and al Qaeda militants. As yet, only a few countries have answered his call.
"Whatever the cost, however difficult, we cannot afford it, we must win," he had said ahead of the summit.
In Paris, a Sarkozy advisor said prior to the summit that the French president had set out conditions for the extra French troops in a letter to NATO allies, including an increase in international aid to Afghanistan.
"He calls for a coordinated strategy whose goal will be a stable Afghanistan, reconciled with itself and free of terrorism and drug trafficking," the advisor said.
According to Reuters news agency, France is expected to seek US backing for its drive to bolster European Union military structures during the second half of next year.
Reviewing membership for Georgia and Ukraine
Canada is now to stay in Afghanistan until 2011
But while the US welcomed the French offer of more troops, it met Wednesday with strong opposition from Paris and Berlin over the question of the alliance's eastwards enlargement -- primarily out of fear of provoking Moscow.
Bush had strongly urged skeptical European allies earlier to reward both countries for their democratic revolutions and not to allow Russia, which is not a NATO member, a veto over the alliance's decisions.
Alliance leaders failed to agree to offer Ukraine and Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a gateway to eventual membership, but did confirm Thursday that Ukraine and Georgia would one day become members of the North Atlantic alliance, Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.
"We agree today that these countries will become member nations," he said, adding that prospects for their membership plans would be reviewed in December.
France and Germany had led opposition to the move, saying it was premature when public support for NATO was barely 30 percent in Ukraine, and Georgia did not control all its territory due to frozen conflicts with Russian-backed separatists.
"We have reached the conclusion that it is too early to give both countries Membership Action Plan status," German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said on arrival at the summit.
A senior Georgian diplomat has told the BBC that the "no" to Georgia will be widely seen as a victory for Russia, which has long been expressing concerns over NATO's eastward expansion.
Croatia and Albania sit at the table
Merkel does not support NATO's eastwards push
Greece, meanwhile, dug its heels in over accession by Macedonia, unless the country changed its name to recognize Athens' concerns regarding Greece's northern region with the same name -- prompting fresh concerns about stability in the Balkans.
Officials said Thursday that the alliance decided not to invite Macedonia to join until the dispute is solved.
According to a Macedonian government spokesman, allied leaders meeting in Bucharest had authorized their ambassadors to issue the invitation as soon as the name issue, which has festered for 17 years, is resolved.
"We have agreed that an invitation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be issued as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached," NATO's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference.
Two other Balkan countries -- Croatia and Albania -- were, however, invited to join the defense alliance and sat at NATO's table for the first time Thursday. The two countries will become the 27th and 28th members of NATO once the accession and ratification process has been finalized, which alliance officials hope will be done within a year.
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