NATO's decision to pledge eventual membership to former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine shows the door to the alliance is wide open, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday.
"If there was an open door, there is now a wide open door," Rice told a news conference at a NATO summit, even though the allies failed to agree to put Kiev and Tbilisi on an immediate path to preparing for membership.
She acknowledged several European countries had concerns about giving the two countries a Membership Action Plan, but said it was agreed that NATO foreign ministers would review the question in December with the authority to make a decision.
Rice said the decision would not be popular in Moscow, which had warned NATO against encroaching on what it regards as part of its sphere of influence.
"I know there has been a lot of talk about a Russian veto (on the Membership Action Plan)," she said, but NATO's decision was evidence that "Russia did not have an effect".
Germany and France led a group of European countries that said neither Ukraine nor Georgia met NATO's criteria and the decision would have been an unnecessary provocation to Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev.
In a compromise, they conceded the long-term objective but postponed the first step and gave no firm commitment to taking it in December, European officials said.