Croatia & Albania Invited Into NATO
"The countries who join us can be rightly proud of the reform work they have done,” Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said as he opened the special session to which leaders from Tirana and Zagreb were invited.
“Your admission to the alliance will enhance NATO," he added.
The invitations will see the start of accession talks for Albania and Croatia’s full membership of NATO.
United States President George Bush said both nations “have demonstrated the ability and willingness to provide strong and enduring contributions to NATO."
"Albania and Croatia are ready for the responsibilities that NATO brings," Bush added.
Albanian leaders said the NATO decision as a historic one.
“This is the most important decision in the history of Albanian people,” President Bamir Topi proclaimed. “With this decision we are definitely separated from Yalta,” he said, referring to the 1945 summit during the Second World War where it is alleged Soviet, British and American leaders agreed to carve Europe into respective spheres of influence. Albania came under the Soviet communist sphere.
“You made a historic decision today to invite Albania to become a member of the most successful political and military alliance time has ever known,” said Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha.
“Your noble decision here in Bucharest opens an era of secure freedom and secure future,” he added.
Leaders from Zagreb also welcomed the decision to invite Croatia to join NATO.
“This is a very important decision not only for NATO and Croatia but also for the whole region of southeast Europe,” Stjepan Mesic, Croatian President said.
“NATO is making history by taking the lead,” added Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.
“This new round of enlargement marks a significant step in the strategy of the region,” he claimed.
Ratification in the parliaments of all NATO member states of extending membership to Albania and Croatia will begin from Thursday.
Although the procedure takes approximately 18 months, NATO officials are hoping that member countries will accelerate ratification in national parliaments so both Albania and Croatia can become full members by the beginning of 2009, and participate as the 27th and 28th NATO members at the alliance’s summit, in April next year.