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Rice Gives Strong Backing To Ukraine's NATO Bid

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has pledged Washington's firm support for Ukraine's bid to join the NATO military alliance despite strong Russian opposition to the move.

In a meeting with Ukraine's foreign minister on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Rice said the United States stood by a commitment made at a summit in Bucharest last April for Kyiv to join NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) -- a first step toward membership of the military alliance.

"We, of course, are, have been and will continue to be supportive of Ukraine's trans-Atlantic ambitions. And of course, the U.S. position on MAP was very clear," said Rice, with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko at her side.

"I should just say the Bucharest declaration is also very clear," she added.

At the April summit, NATO leaders stopped short of putting Ukraine and Georgia immediately on the path to membership of the alliance, but pledged the two ex-Soviet states would one day become members.

Russia strongly opposes Ukraine's proposed membership of NATO, as well as that of Georgia.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war last month after Tbilisi sent in troops to try to seize back the rebel region of South Ossetia, provoking massive retaliation by Moscow and a plummet in U.S.-Russia relations to their lowest level since the end of the Cold War.

While the United States has strongly backed both Georgia and Ukraine's membership bids, allies including Germany, France, and smaller NATO states have opposed it for fear of further provoking Russia.

The idea of membership has not been fully embraced in Ukraine either. Polls show a majority of Ukrainians oppose NATO membership and the leader of the country's biggest parliamentary party has said the issue should be decided by the Ukrainian people.
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