UPDATE 1-NATO dashes Georgia, Montenegro membership hopes
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BRUSSELS, June 25 (Reuters) - NATO will not approve a formal step to membership for Georgia at its summit in Britain in September and will delay taking a decision on whether to admit Montenegro until next year, NATO officials said on Wednesday.
NATO members have agreed in principle to draw up a substantive package of cooperation with Georgia that would "help it come closer to NATO", Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters during a meeting of alliance foreign ministers.
But that falls short of an invitation to join NATO's Membership Action Plan - a formal step towards NATO membership - that Georgia had hoped for.
Montenegro's hopes of receiving an invitation to join the alliance at the September summit in Wales were also dashed.
"On Montenegro, we will open intensified and focused talks, and we will assess at the latest by the end of 2015 whether to invite Montenegro to join the alliance," Rasmussen said.
The question of whether to grant Georgia a NATO Membership Action Plan has been highly controversial since it split the alliance at a 2008 Bucharest summit.
Months afterwards, Russia fought a five-day war with Georgia and later recognised two breakaway provinces as independent nations.
That has made many NATO allies wary of welcoming Georgia into the alliance as that would mean NATO could be obliged to come to its defence in the event of another war with Russia.
With NATO-Russia tensions running high after Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, inviting Georgia to join the Membership Action Plan has become even more of a political hot potato. (Reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by Robin Emmott)
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