Sun, Oct 26, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Bush backs Albania, Croatia

‘SHACKLES OF COMMUNISM’ The US president said he looked forward to the day when NATO embraces all the countries in the Balkans, including Macedonia

AP , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush signed papers on Friday to declare formal US support for NATO membership for Albania and Croatia, countries that he said were once in the “shackles of communism.”

At a White House ceremony, Bush signed accession protocols that moved the two Balkan countries a step closer to membership in the expanding military alliance. NATO currently has 26 member countries.

“The citizens of Albania and Croatia have overcome war and hardship, built peaceful relations with their neighbors and helped other young democracies build and strengthen free societies,” he said.

“Once Albania and Croatia formally join NATO, their people can know if any nation threatens their security, every member of our alliance will be at their side,” he said.

Bush said the US looks forward to the day when NATO embraces all the countries of the Balkans, including Macedonia, whose membership is being held up by NATO member Greece because of a bilateral dispute over the use of the name “Macedonia.”

The president also reiterated US support for prospective NATO members Ukraine, Georgia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina, adding: “The door to NATO membership also remains open to the people of Serbia should they choose that path.”

The ceremony followed Bush’s meeting in the Oval Office with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who said that Albania and Croatia would be the No. 27 and No. 28 members of the alliance.

“Their accession will be a boon for NATO, as it will strengthen our common effort to safeguard and promote security and stability,” de Hoop Scheffer told a room filled with about 160 lawmakers, members of the diplomatic corps, the US ambassadors to Albania and Croatia and members of Albanian-US and Croatian-US groups.

“It will also be a boon for southeast Europe and a vivid demonstration that southeast Europe can shed its tragic past,” he said.

The Balkan countries have a long history of quarreling and making war among themselves.

NATO leaders agreed at a summit this year in Romania to invite Albania and Croatia into the alliance. Alliance members rebuffed U.S. attempts to begin the process of inviting Ukraine and Georgia, both former Soviet republics, to join. Despite strong US backing to bring them in, Germany, France and some other alliance members opposed the move, fearing it would provoke Russia.

“We strengthen America’s partnership with nations that once found themselves in the shackles of communism,” Bush said about the enlargement of NATO, which has irked the Russians.

Ties between Russia and NATO members have been further strained by the Georgia-Russia conflict. The war erupted in August when Georgia launched an attack to regain control of South Ossetia, which broke from Georgian control in the early 1990s. Russian forces swiftly repelled the attack and drove deep into Georgia.

Albania and Croatia will be eligible to join NATO when all 26 allies have ratified the accession protocols. Slovakia, Hungary and now the US have ratified them to date. NATO officials hope Albania and Croatia will be able to participate as full members at next year’s summit.

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