Bush Pushes NATO Acceptance of Three Balkan Nations
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
BUCHAREST, Romania, April 2, 2008 President Bush today called NATO’s upcoming decision on whether to accept three Balkan nations for membership into the alliance “historic” and said the United States strongly supports their membership.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer listens to remarks from U.S. President George W. Bush in Bucharest, Romaina, as U.S. Ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates look on, April 2, 2008. They are taking part in the NATO Bucharest Summit. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Speaking here this morning before the official start of the NATO summit, Bush heralded the progress of Croatia, Albania and Macedonia, saying that a decade ago the Balkans were “wracked by war and fanaticism and ethnic cleansing.”
He credited much of the current peace in the region to the three countries’ leadership.
“These countries have walked the difficult path of reform and built thriving free societies,” Bush said. “They are ready to contribute to NATO, and their citizens deserve the security that NATO brings.”
Bush also urged NATO to accept requests from two other Balkan nations, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, to begin an intensified dialogue with NATO, a first step to NATO membership.
“As we welcome new NATO allies, we also affirm that the door to NATO membership remains open to other nations that seek it,” he said.
Also at this summit, NATO will consider the applications of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO’s membership action plan, to which the president gave his unequivocal support.
“My country's position is clear: NATO should welcome Georgia and Ukraine into the membership action plan,” Bush said. “NATO membership must remain open to all of Europe's democracies that seek it and are ready to share in the responsibilities of NATO membership.”
The membership action plan does not guarantee NATO membership, but is a prerequisite.
In his 30-minute speech, Bush also laid the groundwork for NATO’s discussion of its mission in Afghanistan. The United States hopes that NATO reinforces its commitment to the country and that other allies will come forward with more troops for the mission there. Bush called the mission NATO’s most ambitious.
“An alliance that never fired a shot in the Cold War is now leading the fight on a key battleground of the first war in the 21st century,” Bush said. “In Afghanistan, forces from NATO and many partner nations are bringing honor to their uniforms and pride to their countries.”
Already NATO has trained 55,000 Afghan soldiers, and many are capable of leading combat operations, he said. And the increased security has led to civil gains.
“A nation that was once a safe haven for al Qaeda is now a democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope,” the president said.
But recent gains do not signal a time for NATO to relax on its commitments, he said.
“If we were to let up the pressure, the extremists would reestablish safe havens across the country and use them to terrorize the people of Afghanistan and threaten our own,” Bush said. “And that is why we'll stay on the offense, and that is why we'll keep the pressures on these radicals and extremists, and that is why we'll succeed.”
Bush also cited recent threats by al Qaeda against Europe. In 2006, officials thwarted an al Qaeda plot to blow up passenger jets traveling from Europe to the U.S. This year, Turkish officials broke up an al Qaeda cell plotting attacks in that country.
“Two weeks ago, Osama bin Laden issued an audio recording in which he threatened Europe with new attacks. We need to take the words of the enemy seriously. The terrorist threat is real, it is deadly, and defeating this enemy is the top priority of NATO,” Bush said.
In support of the mission in Afghanistan, the United States is sending 3,500 more Marines. Romania also has indicated it will send more troops, and Bush asked that other allies “step forward,” as well.
“If we do not defeat the terrorists in Afghanistan, we will face them on our own soil. Innocent civilians in Europe and North America will pay the price,” Bush said.
The president also discussed U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Europe, calling the need for such a system “urgent.”
“One of the most important steps we can take … to protect our citizens is the deployment of new capabilities to defend against a ballistic missile attack,” Bush said.
Bush cited Iran’s developing technologies that could be used to produce nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. In 2006, Iran conducted military exercises in which it launched ballistic missiles capable of striking Israel and Turkey.
“Iranian officials have declared that they are developing missiles with a range of 1,200 miles, which would give them the capability to reach us right here in Romania,” Bush said. “Our intelligence community assesses that, with continued foreign assistance, Iran could test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States and all of Europe if it should choose to do so.”
The U.S. wants an endorsement of its missile defense plan in Europe, as well as plans to develop a NATO-run short- and medium-range missile defense system.
This has caused some angst with Russian President Vladimir Putin, though. Putin is scheduled to be at the NATO-Russian Council talks April 4, the final day of the summit. In March, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Putin in Moscow in an attempt to allay some of the Russians’ fears that the system could be turned against them.
“We're inviting Russia to join us in this cooperative effort so as to be able to defend Russia, Europe and the United States against an emerging threat that could affect us all,” Bush said.
Also, Bush plans to travel to Russia later this week for further missile defense talks, he said.
“I will reiterate that the missile defense capabilities we are developing are not designed to defend against Russia,” Bush said. “The Cold War is over. Russia is not our enemy. We're working toward a new security relationship with Russia whose foundation does not rest on the prospect of mutual annihilation.”