BRUSSELS, Montenegro, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- NATO offered the former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro a formal plan to join the organization as a step toward full membership.
"With a sustained effort at further reform, today's invitation to join the Membership Action Plan will be a steppingstone to the ultimate goal: full membership in NATO," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a press conference in Brussels.
The move comes slightly more than three years after Montenegro's declaration of independence from Serbia, faster than Ukraine and Georgia, which also had applied for MAP, the Web site EUobserver reported Friday.
"If Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have the intention of providing their country security in the form of Euro-Atlantic integration, we can only welcome this decision," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko said.
The minister played down the importance of the MAP, calling it a "bureaucratic formality," noting many countries previously became NATO members without it, the Web site said.
Montenegro recently lifted EU visas for its citizens in a move the government hopes will signal democratic reform. But critics see these reforms mostly as being on paper.
"They are only interested in reforming the military and security structures. But once we get EU candidate status, maybe at the end of 2010 or early 2011, there will be more pressure on the government," said Momcilo Radulovic of the European Movement, a Podgorica-based non-governmental organization said.