( Reuter )- Ukraine and Georgia should be given a "clear prospect" of joining NATO, U.S. President George W. Bush was quoted as saying on Saturday ahead of a NATO summit in Bucharest next week that will discuss the issue.
Bush also said he was satisfied with the number of troops Germany has committed to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and Berlin would not be asked to send troops to the more dangerous south.
Ukraine hopes the NATO summit will grant it a roadmap towards joining the military alliance but Russia has spoken out sharply against expansion into ex-Soviet neighbors.
Georgia, whose pro-Western leaders want to move out of Moscow's orbit, is seeking membership in both NATO and the European Union.
In an interview with German daily newspaper Die Welt, Bush said there would be no decision on Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO in Bucharest but instead on their right to apply for it.
"I think it's in our interest to give Georgia and Ukraine a clear prospect here," the paper quoted Bush as saying, in a preview of its Monday edition.
Bush said comments on possible NATO membership for Ukraine by Russia's president-elect, Dmitry Medvedev, in which he said it would pose a threat to Russian security, reflected the opinion of Vladimir Putin, the current leader.
"When I spoke to Putin recently he mentioned those arguments," Bush said.
"I have a clear opinion about that: if someone has democracies on their borders then that's good not bad.
"Democracies tend to be peaceful. Democracies that do the will of their people do not tend to wage war."
Bush said NATO did not plan to set up any permanent bases in Ukraine and insisted that no NATO troops would be permanently stationed there.
"The country should have the chance to reform its military, its economy and its political system," Bush said.
Asked about apparent opposition to joining NATO among the Ukrainian people, Bush said if they voted against it in a referendum "at the appropriate time" it would not happen.
"But the decision should not be made outside the country but by the people themselves," he said.
Turning to Germany's contribution to the ISAF force in Afghanistan, Bush said he was satisfied with the number of troops Berlin has committed to the north of the country.
Germany would not be asked to send troops to the south, he said: "I want decisions that our partners can live with. I don't want to make demands on countries that they can't cope with politically.
"We will be able to convince other nations that it makes sense to send more troops to Afghanistan."
A parliamentary mandate allows Germany to send 3,500 to Afghanistan as part of NATO's 43,000-strong mission. Around 3,300 soldiers are there now, with another 200 expected to move there as a Quick Reaction Force in the summer.