NATO head pledges to forge consensus on Ukraine

A123011234.jpgKIEV (Reuters) – NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Tuesday he would try to persuade all NATO members to back the idea of extending to Ukraine a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a step to joining the military alliance.

Scheffer was winding up a two-day visit to the ex-Soviet state where many people are unenthusiastic about NATO after decades of propaganda portraying it as a warmonger. Scheffer said his visit amounted to an “outreach program” to “debunk” myths about the alliance.

A NATO summit in Bucharest in April declined to grant MAP to Ukraine and ex-Soviet Georgia, but agreed to review the issue at a meeting of foreign ministers in December.

With chants from a small anti-NATO protest resounding outside the building, Scheffer gave no predictions on Ukraine’s chances of receiving MAP in six months’ time.

“That is difficult for me to speculate. As you know, in Bucharest there was not yet a consensus on the Membership Action Plan,” he told a news conference.

“I will try to do the best I can to forge, to create that consensus…I will see to it that I do my best — I speak for myself as Secretary General — to forge that consensus.

“Guarantees I cannot give, unfortunately.”

The lack of consensus on extending MAP to the two ex-Soviet states was linked to fierce opposition from Russia, which has said it could take “military steps” in response, and a lack of public backing inside Ukraine. Opinion polls show support for joining NATO tops out at about 30 percent.

Scheffer gave fresh assurances to skeptical Ukrainians that membership did not imply hosting military bases or sending soldiers to fight in far-away lands. Rather, Ukraine’s ailing defense industry would benefit rather than lose competitiveness.

Both Scheffer and pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko said after talks on Monday that joining NATO was a decision to be taken by Ukraine alone.

Yushchenko has made NATO and EU membership the cornerstone of his foreign policy since being propelled to power by “Orange Revolution” protests in 2004. He has pledged that the final decision on membership would be put to a referendum.

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