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At NATO summit, Bush likely to get some of what he wants

His quest for more forces in Afghanistan, headway on continental missile defense may gain ground in Bucharest.

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Noting that Bush first laid out his vision in a speech in Warsaw in 2001, and will culminate his efforts at a summit in Romania, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried says, "…to start in Warsaw and then to end in Bucharest, on the Black Sea, and look out, is strategically consistent."

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Speaking to reporters on the way to Kiev Monday, Mr. Fried said that "in 2008 we're still … advancing where we started" with the last expansion of NATO in 2004, which included summit host Romania.

Bush has succeeded with his broader Europe policy, analysts say, though that has not addressed some of the bigger existential issues facing the alliance.

"NATO today is a reflection of President Bush's firm conviction that the frontiers of freedom must be advanced across Europe right to the borders of Russia, and that is his legacy," says Nile Gardiner, a transatlantic policy expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Still, Bush is likely to leave a "two-tier" alliance in which only a few nations consistently take on the pact's military burdens, and in which some of the oldest and largest members rely on national "caveats" to avoid the most dangerous assignments, Mr. Gardiner adds.

Others say the Bush team is responsible for NATO's discord over Afghanistan, because it initially rebuffed alliance help when the US first invaded Afghanistan.

More broadly, Bush will hand off to his successor some unfinished business that will dog NATO, experts say: redefining the alliance's strategic purpose to fit the post-9/11 21st century, and developing a common approach toward Russia.

Relations with Russia challenging

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, are set to attend the NATO summit, and Bush is to make a postsummit stop in the Russian resort of Sochi to meet just with them. This contact, say some experts, bodes well for an entente over NATO missile defense, which Russia sees as a threat.

US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley hinted at progress Monday when he said the Sochi stop "will provide an opportunity to nail down some areas and emphasize areas of cooperation, make progress on some outstanding issues...."

But no matter what happens during Bush's trip, big questions will hang over the alliance and US policy toward it.

For one, does European unease over Russsian chest-thumping over Ukraine and Georgia mean Russia is developing a veto on further NATO expansion?

Stephen Flanagan at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here says NATO is going to have to deal with a Russia that doesn't see the alliance as a security threat so much as a force that "undercuts Moscow's strategy to bring its former satellites back within the Russian sphere of dominance." One component of that strategy, he says, "is to try to undermine US and NATO influence."