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NATO: Georgian, Ukrainian MAP Bids Likely To Go To The Wire At Summit

(NATO) One week before NATO leaders convene in Bucharest, Georgian officials have traveled to the alliance's headquarters in Brussels for a last-gasp bid to secure their country a Membership Action Plan (MAP), seen as a virtual guarantee of future membership.

NATO officials say the debate within NATO is likely to go to the wire at the April 2-4 summit, with the United States and fresh Eastern European member states strongly in favor, and Germany and France opposed.

In a measure of the intractability of the debate over Georgia and Ukraine, NATO officials have drafted two separate sets of declarations for the Bucharest summit -- one containing offers of MAPs, the other not.

The decision will have to be made at the highest level, by NATO presidents and prime ministers.

Officials say it is all but certain that the two countries' bids stand or fall together.

Nevertheless, it is up to each country to make their case. Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze, State Minister for European and Euroatlantic Integration Giorgi Baramidze, and Deputy Defense Minister Giorgi Muchaidze were in Brussels on March 26 to make theirs. The Georgian delegation was received by the 26 NATO ambassadors at the weekly meeting of the North Atlantic Council.

NATO's spokesman James Appathurai has remained tightlipped, limiting himself to restating previously declared positions. He noted that "we are all aware of the context of Georgia's aspirations to move closer to NATO and the context of the upcoming Bucharest summit."

Appathurai said NATO's doors would remain open to "all European democracies." He also reiterated that "no third country" -- a presumed reference to Russia -- will have any influence on NATO's membership decisions.

Appathurai said the Georgian officials were in Brussels to discuss the progress their country has made in moving toward NATO standards within the framework of its Intensified Dialogue with the alliance.

All sides are aware, however, that it political considerations will be foremost in debating the fate of Georgia's and Ukraine's efforts to move closer to NATO membership.

Earlier this month, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told journalists in Brussels that Georgia's case suffered a "hiccup" when the authorities in Tbilisi resorted to force to suppress opposition protests in November. Ukraine's public is known to be split down the middle over NATO membership.

A principal point of concern for most NATO capitals, however, is Russian reaction. Russia's outgoing president, Vladimir Putin, will attend the summit. His successor, Dmitry Medvedev, told the "Financial Times" this week that by extending membership offers to Georgia and Ukraine, NATO would cross a "red line" for Russia.

A NATO official told RFE/RL the U.S. ambassador to the alliance, Victoria Nuland, told her colleagues on March 26 that President George W. Bush favored giving Georgia and Ukraine MAPs. However, a subsequent announcement that Bush and Putin have agreed to a last formal meeting, in Sochi after the NATO summit, prompted speculation that MAPs might not be forthcoming in Bucharest.

Canada and countries in Central and Eastern Europe remain strongly supportive of Kyiv's and Tbilisi's MAP bids.

France and Germany, by contrast, resist the idea equally strongly. But both ambassadors indicated at the meeting on March 26 that they remain generally supportive of Georgia's "Euro-Atlantic ambitions."

Georgian officials told NATO ambassadors that reforms in the country would be at risk if NATO failed to fix a date for a MAP. They also said a MAP would provide a "positive impetus" for the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

NATO officials rejected suggestions that Georgia and Ukraine would be offered an upgrade in ties at the Bucharest summit that fall short of a MAP. NATO's new member states argue that no one would stand to gain anything from what has become known as the "halfway-house" scenario.

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