WASHINGTON – Ahead of this week's NATO summit, President Bush has told alliance members he wants to expand the organization to include three Balkan countries and put Ukraine and Georgia on track for membership.
European leaders know the new president could shift course on NATO. For that reason, they may seek to put aside some decision,s including commitments to Ukraine and Georgia, until after Bush leaves office in January.
He also could see his goal of winning NATO membership for Albania, Croatia and Macedonia partially thwarted at the summit.
"I think this NATO summit is basically the 'Goodbye George' summit," said Daniel Hamilton, Director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. "A lot of the energy is looking beyond the administration."
Bush also faces stiff resistance on Georgia and Ukraine from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sees a threat in further NATO expansion into Russia's former sphere of influence.
On Friday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko promised broader cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan were the alliance to shelve invitations to Ukraine and Georgia.
Some NATO allies want to avoid further tension with Russia during the Kremlin leadership transition. Putin, who is expected to attend the Bucharest summit, steps down as president in May.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has signaled opposition despite Bush's support. As a consensus organization, one veto at the summit would block Georgian and Ukrainian hopes, and Germany seems to have the backing of other European countries.
But Bush sees NATO expansion as a way to cement democratic gains in Europe.