April 2nd, 2008 06:18 EST
President Bush attends his last NATO Summit
By Paula Wolfson
President Bush is urging NATO to continue its eastward expansion and to provide more support for military operations in Afghanistan. Mr. Bush laid out his NATO policy in Bucharest, as alliance members gathered for a summit in the Romanian capital.
The president says the people of Romania have looked evil in the eye and have transformed their country from a communist dictatorship to a free nation and a member of NATO.
He says the young democracies in Ukraine and Georgia deserve the same chance.
"My country's position is clear: NATO should welcome Georgia and Ukraine into the Membership Action Plan. And, NATO membership must remain open to all of Europe's democracies that seek it, and are ready to share in the responsibilities of NATO membership," he said.
In a speech to the people of Romania, the president argued that putting these countries on the path to NATO membership at the Bucharest summit will send a signal that Ukraine and George are and will remain sovereign and independent states.
Germany and France have indicated they have reservations about bringing in the two former Soviet republics and Russia has raised vehement objections. In his address, Mr. Bush made no direct mention of Moscow's opposition to further NATO expansion. But he did address Russian concerns about plans to install a missile defense system in Europe, noting he will discuss the issue, Sunday, with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia.
Mr. Bush says the missile defense plan is necessary to counter an emerging threat from Iran. He says it is not an attempt to resurrect Cold War tensions.
"In our discussions, I will reiterate that the missile defense plans we are developing are not designed to defend against Russia, just as the new NATO we are building is not designed to defend against Russia," he said.
As the NATO summit participants gather in Bucharest, the president is also calling on them to step up deployment in Afghanistan. He says NATO must maintain its resolve and finish the fight.
"An alliance that never fired a shot in the Cold War is now leading the fight in a key battleground in the first war in the 21st Century," Mr. Bush said.
Forty-seven-thousand NATO forces are in Afghanistan. Mr. Bush says the United States, France and Romania have already committed additional troops. He is urging other NATO members to do the same.
"If we do not defeat the terrorists in Afghanistan, we will face them on our own soil. Innocent civilians in Europe and North America would then pay the price," he said.
NATO leaders will hold a special meeting on Afghanistan, Thursday. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon will take part in the session.