President Bush plans to propose offering five countries an expanded relationship with NATO at a summit of the alliance next week in Riga, Latvia, but no full-fledged new members will be invited to join, the State Department said Tuesday.
Under a new global partnership plan, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Sweden and Finland would be invited to increase their participation in training and meetings with the 26-nation NATO alliance but would not be invited to join as full members, said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns.
"These five countries - at least the three Asian countries, I should say, Australia, Japan and South Korea - do not seek NATO membership," Burns said. "But we seek a partnership with them so that we can train more intensively, from a military point of view, and grow closer to them because we are deployed with them."
A global European agenda
"This will be a priority issue for the United States at this summit, and we believe NATO will agree to this program of global partnerships," Burns said at a State Department news conference.
Australia already is the biggest non-NATO contributor to the alliance-led force of about 20,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Six Arab countries are partners with NATO, as is Israel.
"Our agenda with Europe is now a global agenda, and it tends to be about the rest of the world; about what we can do as partners in the Middle East, in south and east Asia, in Africa and in Latin America," Burns said about the evolution of an alliance formed initially to deter the Soviet Union in Europe," Burns said,
"This is a fully modern agenda. And it's a great change from the agenda that we had with the Europeans for the five decades during the Cold War," he said.
No NATO expansion suggested
Earlier, at a separate meeting with reporters, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said no new membership invitations would be issued at the summit in Riga that will be attended by President Bush and leaders of the other NATO nations.
"This is not going to be an expansion summit," Fried said. "NATO is not going to be making invitations."
Macedonia, Croatia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Georgia are among countries in two groups that aspire to membership.
Fried paid tribute to the Netherlands, Canada and the United Kingdom for joining U.S. troops in fighting against a Taliban insurgency in southern Afghanistan. Fried urged NATO countries that do not authorize sending their troops into combat to change their positions. He did not name those countries.