NATO summit to unveil concrete steps for Ukraine’s membership

WASHINGTON — NATO will roll out “concrete ways” to accelerate Ukraine’s eventual membership in the Atlantic alliance during a summit next week in Washington, according to a senior U.S. official.

Summit organizers are understood to be leaning toward language in a final declaration that would say Ukraine’s path to NATO is “irreversible,” but the official would say only that the wording is still being negotiated.

Douglas Jones, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, told VOA during an interview on Tuesday that foreign ministers from 35 non-NATO member partners are invited to attend the Washington summit.

Notable attendees include the foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

For the third consecutive summit, heads of state from all 32 NATO allies will engage in discussions with leaders from its Indo-Pacific partners: Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

Building the resilience of allies to confront threats and challenges from China is among the key agenda items, said Jones. But, he added, a proposal to establish a NATO liaison office in Tokyo, intended as a hub for cooperation with Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, is currently “not under active discussion.”

In celebration of NATO’s 75th anniversary, more than two dozen influencers have been invited to observe the proceedings and create social media content to commemorate the milestone.

The following excerpts from the interview have been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visited Kyiv on Tuesday and urged President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to consider a cease-fire with Russia. Are you concerned that this shows a divide in NATO? What is the U.S. perspective on Orban’s visit to Ukraine?

Douglas Jones, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs:  It’s good that Prime Minister Orban visited Ukraine. On the idea of a cease-fire, these decisions are for Ukraine to make. We’ve always said, “Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.” It is up to Ukraine to decide when it’s time to discuss a cease-fire and what the terms of any peace settlement might be.

VOA: Moving on to NATO: What are the key items on the agenda? Are the foreign ministers of Israel and several Arab countries invited to the NATO summit?

Jones: We will be talking about the state of NATO. This summit is really about the future, about how NATO continues to transform and adapt itself to meet future challenges.

Whether that’s supporting Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression, working with partners to build the resilience of allies to confront the threats and challenges from the People’s Republic of China, or addressing hybrid and cyber threats, these are all issues that we’ll be focusing on at the summit.

NATO has a broad network of partnerships. There are 35 countries around the world that have a formal partnership relationship with NATO. They will all be invited at the level of foreign ministers to attend, including Israel and many countries in the Middle East.

VOA: Zelenskyy is expected to attend next week’s NATO summit. Does the U.S. view Ukraine’s path to NATO membership as irreversible? Are the U.S. and its allies working to incorporate such language into NATO’s joint statement?

Jones: The United States and all NATO allies have said that Ukraine’s future is in NATO. At this summit, we will be rolling out concrete ways in which NATO can help Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression, build the future force needed to deter Russia, and implement the reforms it needs to make itself a stronger candidate for eventual NATO membership.

Together, this is what we describe as a bridge to NATO membership. The assistance that we’re going to be rolling out at the summit will really help accelerate Ukraine on its path to NATO membership.

VOA: And such a bridge is irreversible?

Jones: The wording of the declaration is still under negotiation by NATO allies. The alliance has already said that Ukraine will become a member of NATO.

VOA: Regarding NATO’s Indo-Pacific strategy, could you give us an update on the plan to open a NATO liaison office in Tokyo?

Jones: So, at the summit, the outcome with the Indo-Pacific partners is that all the heads of state and governments of NATO’s Indo-Pacific partners — Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand — will be present. There are only three main meetings of the summit, and one of them will be when the heads of state of all 32 NATO allies meet with these Indo-Pacific partners. This is going to be the third summit in a row where this has happened.

And the reason for that is because allies are increasingly recognizing that there are links between security in the Euro-Atlantic space and in the Indo-Pacific.

Ukraine is the No. 1 example where you have the biggest threat to transatlantic security, with Russia being fueled by assistance from China and the DPRK.

VOA: Is there going to be a NATO office in Tokyo, or has such a plan been postponed indefinitely?

Jones: It’s not under active discussion currently within the alliance.

VOA: What can we expect from the NATO summit regarding the implications of the Russia-North Korea mutual defense pact?

Jones: Russia is seeking weapons from the DPRK as it looks for ways to continue its assault and aggression against Ukraine. The connections are deep. That’s why we’ll have the leaders of NATO’s Indo-Pacific partners at the summit: to discuss how we can learn from each other and cooperate in addressing these common security challenges.

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