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NATO informs organization hopefuls no new members will be added during upcoming summit

BRUSSELS -- Faced with a newly aggressive Russia, NATO has been mulling how to react, but it is ruling out one option: rapid expansion.

Four would-be members, including the former Soviet republic of Georgia, have been informed that admission to NATO isn't in the cards anytime soon. For some, that means dashed hopes. Macedonia's foreign minister told The Associated Press in a statement it was a “step backward.”

The bottom line: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, celebrating important anniversaries this year of a dozen nations joining its ranks, will welcome no new members when U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders convene for a summit in Wales in early September.

Analysts say that NATO members are worried about granting, or being perceived as granting, security guarantees that could quickly be tested by Russia. That's particularly true of Georgia, which has been waiting since 2008 for the U.S.-led military alliance to make good on its promise of admission.

Before taking over Crimea from Ukraine, Russia invaded and occupied two regions of Georgia nearly six years ago — and NATO is reluctant to take any action that might provoke a riposte from Moscow.

“The conflict over Ukraine has made it clear to them at NATO they have to be careful, both about security commitments and credibility,” said Liana Fix, an associate fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “If you give Georgia their membership action plan but don't defend them if something happens, what does it say about your credibility?”

NATO won't publicly hang up the “No Vacancy” sign.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance's secretary general, proclaimed recently that “NATO's door remains open. And no third country has a veto over NATO enlargement.”

But even before Crimea's annexation, some NATO countries were experiencing “enlargement exhaustion” and had become reluctant to increase the alliance's membership rolls, said Jorge Benitez, senior fellow for trans-Atlantic security at the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Post-Crimea, “the issues are much bigger,” Benitez said. “The question is, how much insecurity would you add to the alliance versus how much security would you bring to the alliance?”

To try to tilt the balance in its favor, Georgia has been an enthusiastic NATO partner, and until recently, had been fielding the largest non-NATO contingent of soldiers in alliance-led operations in Afghanistan.

In Wales, Georgia had been hoping to receive a formal action plan for membership, but instead will be given a “substantive package” to help move it closer to NATO, Rasmussen said. He declined to give details. But Fix said the package was likely to include stepped-up training programs, increased military cooperation and advice, and a detailed checklist of what NATO wants Georgia to do to qualify for membership.

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