From the Associated Press: The Obama administration is not ruling out the possibility of Russian membership in NATO.

Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon told U.S. lawmakers Tuesday that the United States would consider Russian membership in the military alliance that was founded to protect Europe from Soviet aggression.

Gordon said NATO should be open to European democracies. He added that “if Russia meets the criteria and can contribute to common security, and there is a consensus in the alliance, it shouldn’t be excluded.”

Is this a major shift in U.S. policy? Or just a catchy headline? NATOSource recalls similar language from the previous administration, as far back as 2001.

In Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria highlighted the following in his article entitled, Could Russia Join the West?

A senior American official, Richard Haass, director of policy planning at the State Department, explains, “There is no reason why, in principle, Russia could not become a member of NATO. Naturally it would take a while, but if Russia met the conditions set forth by current members, I don’t see why not.”

The U.S. and NATO have long held a policy of officially not excluding Moscow from someday joining the alliance, while privately keeping the issue from developing in the foreseeable future.

Back in 1991, NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner responded to a letter from Russian President Boris Yeltsin which raised the issue of Russia joining NATO by carefully not ruling out the possibility of Russian membership.

From the New York Times: “He did not apply for membership, he just raises a question, and then says he regards that as a long-term political aim. My reaction is that nothing is excluded, and we will have time enough to develop relations.”

Not saying NO, is not the same as saying YES. We all have examples of what, “We’ll see,” often means.