Bush inks NATO membership for Croatia, Albania
Washington, Oct 25 (DPA) The US officially endorsed the NATO membership of Croatia and Albania, with President George W. Bush Friday signing an agreement already ratified by Congress.
The White House signing ceremony attended by the Croatian and Albanian ambassadors and other dignitaries followed a meeting between Bush and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
The accession of the two countries was approved at a NATO summit in July and requires the approval of all 26 existing members.
'This is a special moment in the hopeful story of human liberty, as America formally declares its support for Albania and Croatia's entry into NATO,' Bush said.
'With today's ceremony, we celebrate two young and vigorous democracies seeking to assume new responsibilities in a time of terrorism and a time of war. We strengthen America's partnership with nations that once found themselves in the shackles of communism. We rejoice in taking a major step toward welcoming the people of Albania and Croatia into the greatest alliance for freedom the world has ever known.'
Bush pointed out that Washington has supported NATO membership for Croatia and Albania from the beginning of the long process.
'The citizens of Albania and Croatia have overcome war and hardship, built peaceful relations with their neighbours, and helped other young democracies build and strengthen free societies,' he said.
'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 noted the 'difficult reforms these countries have undertaken on the path to prosperity and peace. In return, NATO membership offers the promise of security and stability.'
De Hoop Scheffer pointed out that what began as a 12-country alliance after World War II will reach 28 member countries when the accession of Croatia and Albania is completed.
'Their accession will be a boon for NATO, as it will strengthen our common effort to safeguard and promote security and stability,' he said.
'It will also be a boon for south-east Europe and a vivid demonstration that south-east Europe can shed its tragic past. Both countries have set an example for others to follow and we will encourage and support all those who aspire that same goal.'
During the event, Bush repeated his support for continued NATO expansion to include Ukraine and Georgia, which Russia has vociferously opposed, as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro.
'The door to NATO membership also remains open to the people of Serbia, should they choose that path,' he said. 'All these nations treasure the blessings of liberty because they remember the pain of tyranny. And they share NATO's solemn commitment to defend the free against the unfree and the weak against the strong.'
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