Albania, Croatia set for NATO invitation

Other News Materials 2 April 2008 20:47 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) -  NATO leaders meeting in Bucharest on Wednesday were expected to invite Albania and Croatia into their alliance while placing Macedonia's ambitions on hold owing to a name dispute with Greece.

An official announcement was expected late on Wednesday or on Thursday morning at the latest.

A delegation source said there was broad consensus on the fact that Albania and Croatia should join NATO.

But Macedonia's bid was being hampered by Athens, which was threatening to veto its entry because it views Macedonia's name as implying a territorial claim on Greece's northern province.

"No solution (on the name issue) means no invitation," Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyianni told reporters in Greece while on her way to Bucharest.

While NATO officials were insisting that talks between Athens and Skopie would continue until the last minute, Bakoyianni insisted that "there is not time left for a new proposal."

"We will attend the summit with our arguments prepared," she added.

Meanwhile in Bucharest, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer appeared to confirm Albania and Croatia's chances by saying he expected the alliance's leaders to welcome "several new members from south-east Europe" during the summit.

The NATO chief was addressing a meeting of Young Atlanticists just hours before heads of government and state from NATO's 26 countries were due to gather in the Romanian capital.

"Our summit will demonstrate that ... consolidating Europe remains a major task for NATO. I expect that the summit will open NATO's door to several new members from South-East Europe," he said.

Some analysts had warned that Albania's chances might be linked to those of Macedonia, which has a sizeable Albanian population.

But NATO spokesman James Appathurai insisted the merits of each of the three applicants would be judged individually.

"What happens in the context of one country will not affect the aspirations of others," Appathurai said.

De Hoop Scheffer also said he expected NATO to create closer ties with other countries born from the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, as well as with Ukraine and Georgia.

"And that will also help make our continent more stable and more secure," he said.

Such comments were unlikely to go down well in Moscow, where officials have already warned that offering membership action plans to Ukraine and Georgia, which both border Russia, would lead to "a dramatic evolution" in NATO-Russia relations.

And Germany looked set to block real progress on this issue, with Chancellor Angela Merkel saying it was "too early" to extend NATO's arms to the two former Soviet Republics by offering them Membership Action Plans (MAP).

Appathurai had earlier acknowledged that there were divisions within the alliance on the issue, and noted that the decision on whether to offer the two countries a MAP was ultimately "political".