Bush welcomes Croatia to NATO, backs Macedonia

April 5th, 2008 - 9:29 pm ICT by admin  

Zagreb, April 5 (DPA) US President George W. Bush left Zagreb Saturday for Russia after welcoming the “historic” membership invitation NATO extended to Croatia and Albania, and promising the embittered Macedonia that it would follow soon. Bush visited Croatia after the NATO summit in Bucharest in an additional show of support for a country that fought for its independence last decade and was invited this week to join the alliance along with Albania.

“We look forward to welcome you as partners in NATO,” Bush told a crowd in central Zagreb. “The invitation to Croatia and Albania to join is a vote of confidence that you will continue with reforms.”

He also promised Croatia that “from now on, should anyone threaten your people, America and NATO will stand with you and no one will take your freedom away”.

Bush said he regrets that Macedonia, locked in dispute over its name with Greece, was not invited to join. “Our position is clear: Macedonia should take its place in NATO as soon as possible,” he said.

Macedonians, who worry that their country would disintegrate amid ethnic tensions if left outside NATO’s protective umbrella, were bitterly disappointed over the alliance’s decision to bow to a Greek veto threat and not extend them an invitation.

In another show of support, the Macedonian heads of state and government were also invited to meet Bush in Zagreb along with those of Albania.

For Croatia, Bush pledged to work to ease visa rules to allow Croats easier travel to visit relatives in the US.

But he also reached out to Belgrade, which has pulled away from the West over its support of Kosovo, the province with a majority ethnic Albanian population that declared independence from Serbia.

“We hope that soon a free and prosperous Serbia will find its place in the family of Europe and live in peace with its neighbours,” he said.

Bush opened his speech to a crowd on Zagreb’s central St Marko square with “dobro yutro” - good morning in Croatian. Some 3,000 people who attended were cleared by US security services, local reports said.

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