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US envoy doesn't expect Ukraine NATO invitation at July summit

FILE PHOTO: Banners displaying the NATO logo are placed at the entrance of new NATO headquarters during the move to the new building

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith, said on Tuesday she does not expect the alliance to issue a membership invitation to Ukraine at its summit in Washington this coming July.

"As for the summit this summer, I do not expect the alliance to issue an invitation at this juncture," Smith said in response to a question on a call with journalists ahead of a NATO defence ministers' meeting on Thursday.

As it fights Russia's invasion, Ukraine has made clear its aim is to become a member of the U.S.-led military alliance.

Kyiv and some of its allies inside NATO, particularly in Eastern Europe, have pushed for a membership invitation even as they accept Ukraine could not join NATO while still at war.

At a summit in Lithuania last year, NATO leaders said Ukraine's future was in the alliance but stopped short of issuing an invitation or setting out a timeline for membership.

"We've worked very hard since the Vilnius summit last year to move out on a number of steps to continue to help our friends in Ukraine with the necessary reforms inside their own country to move closer to Euro-Atlantic integration," Smith said.

"And we continue to focus first and foremost on supporting them in the current fight and ensuring that they can prevail on the battlefield."

(Reporting by Andrew Gray; Editing by GV De Clercq, Tassilo Hummel)