(by Jon Ward, April 2, 2008, WashingtonTimes.com) – BUCHAREST, Romania — President Bush today said NATO is no longer a body focused on countering Russia, in a speech intended to soften Russian resistance to the alliance’s expansion and to a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
In a speech here several hours before the opening of the three-day NATO conference, Mr. Bush argued that the 59-year old coalition has moved away from its anti-Soviet roots and no longer represents a threat to Russia.
“See, NATO is no longer a static alliance focused on defending Europe from a Soviet tank invasion,” Mr. Bush said. “It is now an expeditionary alliance that is sending its forces across the world to help secure a future of freedom and peace for millions.”
Mr. Bush told the audience of a few hundred people inside the historic National Bank of Savings that “the Cold War is over.”
“Russia is not our enemy,” he said. “I believe we can build strong relations with Russia, and a strong NATO alliance, at the same time.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has mounted an aggressive effort to stop the invitation of two former Soviet blocs — Ukraine and Georgia — into NATO’s membership process.
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, 10 states that were members of the Soviet-controlled Eastern bloc have joined NATO, and Mr. Bush has pressed during his seven years in office for a missile defense system based in two of those countries: Poland and the Czech Republic.
Russia has viewed the missile defense system as a provocation and the Bush administration has labored to convince the Kremlin that the idea is to defend against attacks from Middle Eastern countries such as Iran.
Public comments recently by top French and German officials opposing the invitation of Ukraine and Georgia indicate that the Russians have been successful in driving a wedge into the U.S.-transatlantic relationship.
But Mr. Bush and top White House officials yesterday did not back down from saying they would push over the next few days against a Russian veto.
“The last time we checked, Russia didn’t get a vote. And this is a NATO discussion,” said White House press secretary Dana Perino.
At the same time, Mr. Bush is preparing for talks with Mr. Putin this weekend in Russia that U.S. officials say may yield a breakthrough on missile defense, which has been a bone of contention since the two leaders’ first meeting in 2001.
“The Russians are probably never going to like missile defense. But I think the assurances that we have provided and the mechanisms that we have proposed give them assurance that it is not aimed at them,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said yesterday.
Mr. Putin is expected to speak to a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council here on Friday.
His hand-picked successor, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, is not scheduled to attend the summit, a Kremlin spokesman said this week.
Mr. Bush today is meeting with Romanian President Traian Basescu and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and will attend a working dinner with all 26 NATO heads of state tonight.
Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com
1. For what purpose was NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) established? (Answer can be found at NATO.int or in the “Notes on NATO” below the questions on this page.)
2. When and where did President Bush make a speech on NATO today?
3. What did President Bush say about the purpose of NATO?
4. What is believed to be the purpose of the President’s speech?
5. In which 2 of the 10 NATO states that were members of the Soviet-controlled Eastern bloc is the U.S. working to set up a missile defense system?
6. a) Name the two former Soviet bloc countries that Russia is trying to prevent from being invited to join NATO.
b) Which two NATO countries appear to have been influenced by Russia to oppose the two above from being invited to join NATO?
7. How has the Bush administration reacted to Russia’s opposition?