NATO OKs Bush's Missile Defense Plan

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NATO endorsed President Bush's plan to build a missile defense system in Europe, but decided not to put Ukraine and Georgia on track to join the alliance.

Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said the President will make a new pitch for Ukraine and Georgia before he leaves office in January.

"NATO's door must remain open to other nations in Europe that share our love for liberty and demonstrate a commitment to reform and seek to strengthen their ties with the trans-Atlantic community," Bush said in brief remarks at an alliance meeting. "We must give other nations seeking membership a full and fair hearing."

The President expressed regret that NATO also declined to offer full membership at this meeting to Macedonia. The invitation was blocked by Greece, which says the country's name implies a territorial claim to its northern region, also called Macedonia. Albania and Croatia were invited to join the alliance, now currently at 26 members.

Progress on missile defense was a boost for Bush from the summit. Russia has strongly opposed the plan.

The proposal also advanced with Czech officials announcing an agreement to install a missile tracking site for the system in their country.

NATO leaders were adopting a communique stating that "ballistic missile proliferation poses an increasing threat to allied forces, territory, and populations." It also will recognize "the substantial contribution to the protection of allies ... to be provided by the U.S.-led system," according to senior American officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the statement's release.

The statement calls on all NATO members to explore ways in which the planned U.S. project, to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic, can be linked with future missile shields elsewhere.

Significantly, the document also calls on Russia to drop its objections to the system and to accept U.S. and NATO offers to cooperate on building it, the officials said.

The backing from NATO and the announcement with the Czechs provides Bush with a powerful leg up in his negotiations with Moscow over the issue.

The plan calls for 10 interceptor missiles based in Poland and a tracking radar site in the Czech Republic.

Source: The Associated Press

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