Rogozin Slams NATO Membership Shortcut

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's envoy to NATO, has criticized a new U.S. approach to bringing Georgia and Ukraine closer to joining the alliance.

The United States has supported granting the Western-leaning nations a preparatory blueprint called a Membership Action Plan, but European countries have balked amid Russian opposition.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said Tuesday that Georgia and Ukraine could bypass the plan and join NATO.

Rogozin said the outgoing U.S. administration is trying to force its policy on European allies and U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, Itar-Tass reported Wednesday.

A U.S. attempt to allow Ukraine and Georgia to bypass a Membership Action Plan, or MAP, could be an attempt to reframe a losing debate with some European countries ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers next week.

Some member countries have opposed allowing Georgia and Ukraine to join the MAP and blocked a U.S. push for offering the program at the alliance's April summit. However, the alliance said at the summit that the two countries would eventually become members and agreed to discuss the issue at the foreign minister's meeting.

With the alliance still divided on the issue, the United States is now looking for a new way to win membership for the countries.

"The debate about MAP is not as important as it once was," Fried said. "Having made this decision that NATO membership is the end state, then the challenge is for these countries to demonstrate their readiness and for us to help them."

He said NATO could help prepare the countries without MAP.

Fried said the foreign ministers would also have a broader discussion about relations with Russia and its increasingly assertive foreign policy.

The United States is unlikely to support resuming regular talks under the NATO-Russia Council that were suspended in protest after Russia's invasion of Georgia in August.

Fried said he expects the foreign ministers to affirm NATO support for building a missile-defense system in Europe. Those plans have also fueled tensions with Moscow.