(dpa) - NATO leaders agreed Thursday that Georgia and Ukraine should join the alliance, but postponed a decision on when to offer them a Membership Action Plan (MAP) until December, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.
The NATO chief also confirmed that Macedonia would not be able to join until it resolved its name dispute with Greece.
"We agreed today that (Ukraine and Georgia) will become members of NATO," de Hoop Scheffer said after intense morning discussions in Bucharest that lasted several hours more than anticipated.
In what was seen as a hard-fought compromise, the secretary general said NATO and the two applicants would begin political discussions "at the highest level" leading up to a December meeting of NATO foreign ministers, who will be entrusted with the power to decide on whether to offer them MAPs.
De Hoop Scheffer also called on Ukraine to go ahead with democratic reforms and said NATO leaders were looking forward to the staging of fair elections in Georgia in May.
On Wednesday, France and Germany dashed US hopes that NATO would grant the two former Soviet Republics a MAP at the summit itself, saying that it was too early to do so.
Russia has expressed strong irritation at the fact that NATO is seeking to enroll two more countries lying on its border.
On Macedonia, leaders said they were disappointed by the fact that UN-led talks on resolving the name issue with Greece had failed to produce a result and invited the sides to resume negotiations "without delay".
"The alliance has noted with regret that these talks have not produced a successful outcome. Therefore, the heads of state and government agreed that an invitation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be extended as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached," he said.
Greece blocked Macedonia's bid on Wednesday because of concerns that the use of the name 'Macedonia' could imply a territorial claim on a northern Greek province of the same name.
Nikola Dimitrov, Macedonia's negotiator during talks with Greece, called NATO's decision a mistake.
"It is a mistake which undermines stability in the Balkans and sends the wrong massage, both to moderate and to radical politicians," Dimtrov told Makfax news agency.
The morning talks in Bucharest were followed by the North Atlantic Council, in which Albania and Croatia were formally invited to join the alliance and become NATO's 27th and 28th members.
The welcome ceremony took place inside one of the halls of Bucharest's overbearing Palace of the Parliament, a 330,000-square- metre mansion built during the regime of former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and which is hosting the NATO summit amid tight security.
Croatian President Stjepan Mesic celebrated the event, saying his country would become "a responsible member of NATO".
In Tirana, Albanian parliament speaker Jozefina Topalli said NATO membership was "an extraordinary event" for Albania which capped "17 years of transition."
"By opening its doors to Albania, NATO shows that we have fulfilled our obligations and implemented the reforms we promised to NATO," Topalli said.
Before becoming full NATO members, the two invitees must complete the reforms that have been asked of them by the alliance and await ratification by all of its 26 member states.
Albania and Croatia are expected to formally join NATO at its next summit, which is scheduled to take place in spring 2009, when NATO turns 60 years old.
In a highly symbolic move, leaders agreed that the gathering should be jointly hosted by the French city of Strasbourg and its German neighbour Kehl.