London (CNSNews.com) - No country should have a veto over who joins NATO, President Bush said during a visit to Poland Friday.
"No-one should be excluded because of history or geography," Bush said in Warsaw. "We don't believe any nation should have a veto over who is accepted."
The remarks were aimed at Russia, which has long opposed NATO's eastward expansion, and is particularly unhappy with the idea that the Atlantic alliance may embrace Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia - which were a part of the former Soviet Union.
Speaking a day before he meets President Vladimir Putin in Slovenia, Bush said Russia had nothing to fear from NATO's expansion towards its borders.
He said he would tell Putin when they meet that the U.S. was no longer an enemy. The meeting would show that "I am the president of a peace-loving nation, a nation that wants Russia to succeed."
Because of firm Russian opposition to the inclusion of the three Baltic states some western European countries are less keen than the U.S. to push ahead too quickly.
Nine Eastern European countries are hoping for U.S. support for them to join NATO in the years ahead. Apart from the three Baltic republics, they are Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia. Invitations area expected to be extended to new members at a NATO summit in Prague in the fall of 2002.
Poland is itself a former Warsaw Pact country now in NATO, having joined in 1999 along with the Czech Republic and Hungary.
The country has been more receptive than most in Europe to Washington's plans for a missile defense shield.
Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski told Bush he welcomed the proposals, which he saw as part of a new system of global security rather than a new version of President Reagan Star Wars concept.
"The case seems very clear. The United States wishes to build this system not just for its own security but to reinforce general world security," he said.
Bush had much praise for Poland, a country his father visited as president in 1989 as it was moving away from communism.
"If you believe in a Europe whole and free and secure, a good place to make that case is right here," he said after meeting Kwasniewski.
The Polish leader said he was happy to be able to show Bush "a better, democratic Poland, which has seized its historic chance."
In a keynote address at Warsaw University later Friday Bush is expected to expand on his vision for Europe in the 21st century, including the further enlargement of NATO.