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Gates Discusses Adriatic Nations' Desire to Join NATO

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met today with the defense ministers of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia to discuss their progress in making the reforms required for them to join NATO, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense ministers from the three Adriatic Charter nations meet with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, right foreground, in the Pentagon, Feb. 19, 2008, for regional security discussions. On the far-side of the table, left to right, are Croatian Defense Minister Branko Vukelic, Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu and Macedonian Defense Minister Lazar Elunovski.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Gates hosted Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu, Croatian Defense Minister Branko Vukelic and Macedonian Defense Minister Lazar Elenovski as part of the fourth annual U.S.-Adriatic Charter defense ministerial conference.

This year’s conference is the first to be held in the United States, and today’s secretary-level session kicked off lower-level sessions slated to start tomorrow and wrap up early Feb. 21, Morrell said.

The Adriatic Charter was formed in May 2003 to help Albania, Croatia and Macedonia work toward becoming NATO members. The United States, which signed on as a partner in the charter, agreed to continue helping the three NATO aspirants make the reforms required to join the alliance.

During today’s meeting, the leaders discussed relations among their countries, NATO enlargement and the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Morrell said. In August 2005, the Adriatic Charter sent a joint 12-person medical team to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, marking its first jointly conducted international mission. In addition, both Albania and Macedonia are members of the coalition in Iraq.

“These are all countries that are certainly punching above their weight class when it comes to their contributions to those respective wars,” Morrell said.

The issue of Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia Feb. 17, also arose during the discussions, Morrell said. However, the talks did not venture into discussions about the Kosovo Force mission, which Morrell emphasized is not affected by the Kosovars’ declaration of independence. That mission “remains as it has been, to provide a safe and secure environment, and to do so in an impartial and fair way,” he said.

U.S. forces, which make up about 10 percent of the 16,000 KFOR troops, “will remain there for at least the foreseeable future,” Morrell said.

The Adriatic Charter agreement reaffirms the parties’ shared commitment to strengthening democratic institutions, civil society, rule of law, market economies and NATO-compatible militaries. The countries also agree to fight corruption and crime and promote human rights and civil liberties in Albania, Croatia, Macedonia and other southeastern European countries.

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Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
State Department Background Note on Albania
State Department Background Note on Croatia
State Department Background Note on Macedonia

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