Bush Scores Two Goals At NATO Summit

US President George W. Bush talks with Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown during a session with invitees, at the NATO Summit conference in Bucharest, Thursday April 3, 2008. The NATO allies agreed to put off a plan to put Ukraine and Georgia on track to join the alliance, but did invite Albania and Croatia to become members.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
President Bush scored two victories at a NATO summit in Bucharest Thursday, with the trans-Atlantic alliance agreeing to support his plans for a missile defense program with bases in western Europe, and France pledging an additional battalion of troops to the fight in Afghanistan.

The good news may help to offset the painful diplomatic blow dealt to Mr. Bush on Wednesday in Romania, when NATO allies rebuffed his passionate pleas to put former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia on the path toward membership in the military alliance.

Senior American officials said Thursday that NATO leaders had agreed to fully endorse the U.S. missile defense plans and to urge Russia to drop its vehement objections to the plans, which Moscow claims would diminish the effectiveness of its own defense capabilities.

"The U.S. has been inviting Russia to have inspection rights," at the eastern European sites," reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.

"I think we can probably look for a deal" by the time Mr. Bush and his counterpart President Vladimir Putin hold their bilateral meeting, scheduled for this weekend at a Russian seaside resort, adds Plante.

In yet another boost for Mr. Bush's defense plans, Czech officials announced an agreement to install a radar tracking site for the system in their country.

A joint statement issued Thursday on the sidelines of the NATO summit says that the Czech Republic and the United States will sign a missile defense agreement in May.

The Bush administration insists the defense plans are aimed strictly at protecting America and its allies from potential threats from "rogue nations" - primarily North Korea or Iran.

The officials said the endorsement was contained in a communique the leaders were set to adopt Thursday at the summit in Bucharest. The document will state 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," the officials said.

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. It says leaders should come up with recommendations to be considered at their next meeting in 2009, the officials said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed Thursday that France will send a battalion and special forces to Afghanistan to join the NATO mission there.

The reinforcements are expected to total up to 1,000 troops. Their deployment averts the threat of a crisis in the NATO force triggered by Canada's threat to pull its troops out of the dangerous Kandahar province unless they get 1,000 reinforcements from another ally.

"This will meet the Canadian requirement," one official quoted Mr. Bush as telling his counterparts at the summit's morning session.

This issue could have been a major point of contention at the summit. Some Europeans see the NATO mission as largely a humanitarian effort, while Mr. Bush and some others regard it as a crucial element in the war against terrorism.

Mr. Bush was effusively complimentary of Sarkozy and his policies. The official quoted the president as saying to fellow leaders that the French president's visit to Washington in November had a huge impact on the American people, "like the latest incarnation of Elvis."

France's combat troops are expected to move into eastern Afghanistan, freeing up U.S. forces to help the Canadians in the south.

Sarkozy has also told the NATO summit that he will decide next year on France's return to the alliance's integrated military command, over four decades since Gen. Charles de Gaulle pulled out.

Both moves are a sign of Sarkozy's policy of drawing closer to the U.S.-led NATO alliance, although his speech also stressed France's desire to build up the defense role of the European Union.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
"We the French want to strengthen our Euro-Atlantic community because it is built on shared values, democratic principles, human rights," said Sarkozy, seen at left during Thursday's summit session.

The deployment in Afghanistan follows months of lobbying by the United States to persuade European allies to send more troops to the frontlines of the fight against the Taliban.

"Afghanistan is a strategic issue for international security. It's a central issue for relations between Islam and the West," Sarkozy said. "It's essential for the alliance."

France currently has 1,430 troops serving as part of the 47,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan.

Cementing the foreign policy blow they dealt Mr. Bush on Wednesday, NATO allies agreed to put off a plan to put Ukraine and Georgia on track to join the alliance, but invited Albania and Croatia to become members.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Thursday the alliance was committed to bringing both Georgia and Ukraine aboard one day.

But France and Germany blocked the U.S. drive to formally start that process, saying it would harm already strained relations with Russia. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Thursday the United States would push to start the membership process for Ukraine and Georgia before President Bush leaves office.

De Hoop Scheffer said NATO also decided Thursday not to bring Macedonia into the alliance until the former Yugoslav republic settles a dispute over its name with Greece.

Mr. Bush told his NATO allies that "we regret that we were not able to reach consensus" to bring Macedonia onboard, and he stressed that the alliance must remain open to other nations in Europe. He said NATO must give "a full and fair hearing" to other nations seeking to join.