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NATO Council Formally Welcomes Albania, Croatia

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2009 – NATO today marked 60 years of operation by welcoming two new countries – Albania and Croatia – to the alliance during a ceremony in Strasbourg, France.

The Western allies established NATO as a defense pact against the Soviet Union on April 4, 1949, in Washington.

The United States maintains the Washington Treaty, and President Obama passed copies of the treaty to the leaders of Albania and Croatia.

“We are very excited about your participation,” the president said. “We are proud to have you as Allies.”

“In these past 60 years, NATO has contributed to an unprecedented period of peace, freedom and prosperity for all its citizens,” said NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. “It is testimony to what can be achieved by a transatlantic community that acts with a clear sense of common purpose.”

Scheffer spoke at the beginning of the North Atlantic Council – the senior decision-making body of the alliance. Heads of state and heads of government for the now 28 member alliance sit on the council.

The 60th anniversary of the Washington Treaty was a time of reflection for the alliance, Scheffer said. “At the signing ceremony … one of the statesmen present expressed his hope that this treaty between North America and Europe would become a ‘permanent creation,’” Scheffer said. “Today, we can say with considerable pride that his hopes have come true.”

But the world faces many new risks, the secretary general noted, and the alliance must look to the future. In order to maintain peace and preserve security in an unstable world, the alliance must adapt. This means studying the stratgeic concepts behind the alliance and ways to speed decision making.

Scheffer praised France’s decision to rejoin the integrated command structure. “That decision reinforces the community and cohesion of our alliance,” he said.

The alliance will discuss the way forward in Afghanistan, where NATO commands the International Security Assistance Force. Scheffer said alliance efforts in the country will take time and require perseverence, but it is necessary as the extremists in the country pose an international threat.

Scheffer also said the leaders on the council will make important decisions on the the long-term status of the alliance. All reaffirmed the fundamental principle that an attack on one country is regarded as an attack on all. But the leaders will discuss a new strategic concept – one that maintains the strong bonds across the Atlantic.

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NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

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