Rice backs off NATO plans for Georgia, Ukraine

Washington  - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed off plans to offer Georgia and Ukraine a formal roadmap for joining NATO, but said the United States is still committed to bringing the two countries into the alliance.

Rice is due to arrive in Brussels next week for a conference of NATO foreign minister December 2-3. She does not plan to push for quickly offering the former Soviet states a so-called membership action plan, which would place them on course to join NATO.

"Georgia and Ukraine are not ready for membership. That is very clear," Rice said, referring to the benchmarks countries must meet to enter NATO. "There does not need at this point in time to be any discussion of a" membership action plan.

President George W Bush pushed unsuccessfully for a membership plan for Georgia and Ukraine at the alliance's April summit in Bucharest, but faced opposition within the alliance from France and German.

That resistance has increased since the Georgian military moved in August to crack down on separatist militants in South Ossetia, prompted a large scale Russian invasion.

Russia has strongly opposed NATO membership for any former Soviet states and has been threatened by the expansion of the alliance closer to its borders.

Rice said the British have proposed to work on bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO through commissions already established with the two countries, and said the United States remains committed to their membership.

"It really is just a question of how we would execute the Bucharest decision. It is not a change in policy," she said. (dpa)