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Bucharest - NATO is set to take in two new members, Croatia and Albania, but alliance leaders on Wednesday sidestepped a confrontation with Russia by leaving Ukraine and Georgia waiting on the doorstep.
'There is consensus for two of the three countries to be offered invitations to begin accession talks starting tomorrow,' NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.
'I do not expect membership action plans (MAPs) for Georgia and Ukraine at Bucharest,' he said, in a blow both to the two former Soviet republics and to outgoing US President George W Bush, who had lobbied hard on their behalf.
The alliance will also discuss how to maintain links with Georgia and Ukraine while not offering them membership.
Leaders of the two countries will join discussions in Bucharest after Germany and France made clear their opposition to the pair becoming formal candidates.
A senior Georgian diplomat has told the BBC that a "no" to Georgia at this stage will be widely seen as a victory for Russia, which has voiced concerns at Nato's eastward expansion.
Germany and France had led opposition to the move, saying it was premature when public support for NATO was barely 30 percent in Ukraine and Georgia did not control all its territory due to frozen conflicts with Russian-backed separatists.
Nato countries have agreed to back US plans to site a missile defence system in Europe, at a summit in Romania.
Member states will endorse a communiqué backing the plan to position missile defence bases in the Czech Republic and Poland, US officials said.
Albania and Croatia were invited to join the 26-member alliance.
But Georgia and Ukraine will not be put immediately on the path to membership, while Macedonia was told it must solve a dispute with Greece before joining.
The communiqué on missile defence, circulated by US officials, acknowledges ballistic missile proliferation as "an increasing threat to allied forces, territory and populations".