Good evening. Regina Narusis, thank you so much for that introduction. And thank you to the seven new NATO members’ Ambassadors who have hosted this evening and co-hosted it with the coalition of organizations representing all these wonderful organizations here in the United States of America.
If everyone could get very quiet – very quiet, just for a minute or two here -- very quiet. Now how many people are here from my hometown, Chicago. (Applause and Cheers.) All right, all right. That’s what I like to hear.
Let me first offer a very warm welcome to the Prime Ministers of Bulgaria and Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and also to Albania, Croatia and Macedonia. (Applause.) Didn’t they look terrific standing up there today out on the White House lawn with the President of the United States? (Applause.) It was a wonderful setting. And I can say that, as one citizen, I was absolutely thrilled to be there personally. (Applause.)
And a warm welcome also to the distinguished Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense who are arrayed behind us and the heads of each of the U.S. organizations. And finally, to all those that were gathered there at the White House today who may be here this afternoon – this evening, welcome to you as well. This day I know was special for everyone there. I could feel it, I could see it, and I felt it myself.
This afternoon, in welcoming the new members, President Bush properly called NATO the world’s most successful alliance. When I was U.S. Ambassador to NATO and later Secretary of Defense back in the 1970s -- some three decades ago -- there were 15 NATO allies. And the nations here this evening were trapped behind the Iron Curtain. If anyone had told me back then that, one day, I would attend a ceremony like the one this afternoon on the White House lawn, welcoming seven former Cold War adversaries into the NATO alliance, I couldn’t have believed it. But here we are (Applause.) Here we are and it shows how much our world has changed (Applause.).
And yet the challenges that we face persist. Today eight of the countries represented here this evening have troops deployed in Iraq and eight have troops deployed in Afghanistan and each country has contributed significantly to the global war on terrorism. And it should come has no surprise to any of us that nations that so recently recovered their own freedom are at the forefront of the effort to help the Afghan and the Iraqi people to recover their own freedom. It shows that NATO truly is a community of free nations -- nations that share common values: democracy, human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, free market economies and, I would add, nations that are willing to help extend freedom to others.
President Bush said it today, NATO needs your leadership. It needs the leadership and the energy and the vitality and the perspective that each of your countries bring. We recognize the aspirations of other nations that have expressed a desire to join NATO, including Albania and Croatia and Macedonia.
So my warm congratulations to our newest members. I thank each of you, the Prime Ministers, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Ministers of Defense for their leadership, their steadfastness, their courage, and their willingness to step forward and share the responsibilities and risks of safeguarding our shared values. So I thank you all and may God bless all of the free people of our wonderful alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Thank you very much.