Senator Slams Putin Invitation

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, who has worked with Russia on disposing of nuclear materials, questioned whether NATO was right to invite President Vladimir Putin to its summit meeting early next month.

Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on NATO, Lugar on Tuesday pointed to a recent threat by Putin to target Ukraine with nuclear missiles if the former Soviet republic joins NATO and accepts the deployment of anti-missile defenses on its territory.

At its summit in Bucharest, the alliance will consider whether to invite Ukraine and Georgia to join a program preparing them for membership.

"To invite President Putin into this situation, I suspect, is to give him a meeting in which he intimidates them further," Lugar said. "In this context, this seems to be very dubious."

Lugar helped pass legislation, called the Nunn-Lugar Comprehensive Threat Reduction Act, which has helped former Soviet states destroy, dismantle and secure thousands of nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Fried, who testified at the hearing, called Putin's attendance an opportunity to find new ways to cooperate with Russia.

"The challenge, however, is to make sure that NATO takes decisions on issues on their own merits -- based on what is good for the alliance and good for the issues at hand -- without undue pressure from any outside actors," Fried said.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was quoted Wednesday as saying NATO had not yet decided whether to allow Ukraine and Georgia to join the alliance.

Asked when NATO plans to offer Ukraine and Georgia a Membership Action Plan, the first step to membership, Scheffer said, "We are debating on this issue."

"Remarks on this from the Moscow side have happened often," he told the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza. "We treat our Russian partners seriously. ... We must engage them in the discussion."