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Albania, Croatia, Macedonia Qualify for NATO Membership, U.S. Official Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, 2008 – Albania, Croatia and Macedonia are valued strategic partners of the United States and are qualified to join NATO, a senior Defense Department official said here Feb. 20.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Left to right: Macedonian Defense Minister Lazar Elenovski; Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu; Daniel P. Fata, deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy; and Croatian Defense Minister Branko Vukelic meet with reporters Feb. 20, 2008, at the Pentagon at the conclusion of the day’s slate of defense ministerial meetings. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
  

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

“A common theme from us … has been the appreciation for all that the three countries are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Daniel P. Fata, deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy, said at a Pentagon news conference that included Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu, Croatian Defense Minister Branko Vukelic and Macedonian Defense Minister Lazar Elenovski.

The Pentagon has a long-standing, bilateral defense relationship with each country and has helped them achieve defense reforms over the past decade, Fata said. Albania, Croatia, Macedonia are members of the Adriatic Charter, a partnership with the United States established in May 2003 that has helped them work toward becoming NATO members.

In August 2005, the Adriatic Charter sent a combined 12-member medical team to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, the group’s first jointly conducted international mission. Albania and Macedonia both are members of the coalition in Iraq.

Albania, Croatia and Macedonia “have made amazing strides in reforming and modernizing their defense institutions,” Fata said, noting they’ve moved from conscripted to volunteer military forces.

Regarding the three countries’ desire to join NATO, Fata observed that the “defense criteria have certainly been met, when it comes to their membership applications.” The United States, he said, will advocate on behalf of the countries’ bids to join NATO at the organization’s April 2-4 summit conference in Bucharest, Romania.

The charter’s fourth annual defense ministerial conference, held here Feb. 19 through today, marked the first time the Pentagon has hosted the meetings, Fata said. The ministers met with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Feb. 19, he said. They’ll meet with Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England today.

Topics discussed during the Pentagon conference included NATO enlargement, the future of the Adriatic Charter, Afghanistan and other operations, Kosovo, and regional security in the Balkans, Fata noted.

At the news conference, Mediu thanked Gates and the United States government on behalf of Albania. “Words are not enough to appreciate the support of the United States toward our countries,” he said, noting that Albania has become a reliable U.S. and NATO partner.

Vukelic expressed gratitude for the United States’ assistance and support for Croatia. “We had the opportunity today … to exchange our experiences in peacekeeping missions, primarily in the ISAF force in Afghanistan,” Vukelic said.

Elenovski, the Macedonian defense minister, said the Pentagon meetings were an “extraordinary event” and provided an opportunity for the four countries to discuss mutual defense-cooperation issues.

During a follow-on question-and-answer session with reporters, Fata reiterated U.S. government support for Albanian, Croatian and Macedonian membership in NATO.

“The United States continues to support the (NATO) aspirations of all three countries,” Fata said. “Ultimately, the decisions taken at Bucharest will be based on individual performance.

“We believe all three countries have performed well, have met the criteria, and therefore, our expectation and hope is that all three will be invited” to join NATO, Fata said.

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