BUCHAREST, Romania -- NATO is unlikely to immediately put Ukraine and Georgia on a course toward membership, the group's spokesman said last night, dealing a setback to President Bush, who has pushed hard to expand the 26-nation alliance to include the two countries on Russia's southern flank that had been part of the Soviet Union.
However, NATO and Bush administration officials presented the question of taking the first steps that could lead to the two countries joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a matter not of whether, but when, as the alliance began a summit amid controversies that go to the heart of its changing makeup and mission as it nears its seventh decade.
While Bush was unable to sway Germany and France from their opposition to placing the two on the multistep path toward membership, NATO's spokesman James Appathurai unveiled a French pledge to boost its troop deployment in Afghanistan by a battalion, reflecting new energy that Bush has sought within the alliance for Western military efforts there. And Bush expressed optimism that NATO would get behind his plan to erect a missile defense system in Central Europe - another of his top goals this week in Europe. The summit, like many of the stops in a final presidential year of nearly monthly trips overseas, is a key opportunity for Bush to lock in international support for his agenda.