U.S. President George Bush Fridayone step closer to membership in
NATO. As VOA's Kent Klein reports from Washington, the leaders of the 26 NATO
countries agreed at a summit in Romania earlier this year to invite the two
Balkan nations into the alliance.
President Bush formally endorsed Albania
and Croatia's bid to join NATO, after applauding the two countries for
overcoming communism and war, to become peaceful democracies.
"The people of Albania and Croatia are helping move the world closer to a
great triumph of history - a Europe that is whole, a Europe that is free and a
Europe that is at peace," he said.
At a White House ceremony late Friday, Mr. Bush was joined by NATO
Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in celebrating the progress made by the
alliance's two newest prospective members.
"We are now one major step nearer to welcoming into the alliance Albania and
Croatia, two more countries who have demonstrated, by word and by deed, that
they are willing and able to shoulder the responsibilities of NATO membership,"
The two Balkan nations will be eligible to join the Western alliance when all
26 member countries have approved their addition. The U.S. joins Hungary and
Slovakia as the only countries to sign the papers so far.
While Mr. Bush noted the reforms Albania and Croatia have made in their
democratic systems, he acknowledged that more work remains.
"The road to reform does not end with the acceptance into NATO. Every member
of the alliance has a responsibility to enhance, promote and defend the cause of
democracy. I am confident that Albania and Croatia will deliver on their
commitments to strengthen their democratic institutions and free-market
systems," he said.
The president said the U.S. hopes to welcome other Balkan countries into
NATO. "In the space of a single decade, this region has transformed itself from
a land consumed by war to a contributor to international peace and stability.
America looks forward to the day when the ranks of NATO include all of the
nations in the Balkans, including Macedonia," he said.
Mr. Bush also said the United States remains committed to the NATO
aspirations of Ukraine, Georgia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. He also said
the door to NATO membership is open to the people of Serbia, if they choose that
path. At this year's NATO summit in Romania, the alliance rejected U.S. attempts
to invite Ukraine and Georgia to join, fearing that the move would provoke
Mr. Scheffer agreed that expansion to more countries is an alliance priority.
"Both countries have set an example for others to follow, and we will encourage
and support all those who aspire [to] that same goal," he said.
NATO officials hope Albania and Croatia will be able to participate as full
members in the 2009 summit