Rumsfeld praises Croatia
Zagreb, Croatia — U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld praised the leaders of Croatia's new government Sunday and encouraged their pursuit of defence reforms designed to make the Balkan nation eligible for NATO membership.
In a three-hour visit, Mr. Rumsfeld also thanked President Stipe Mesic and other government officials for supporting the U.S.-led fight against terrorism. Croatia has a small contingent of military police in Afghanistan but it has not yet asked the Parliament to approve troops for Iraq.
At a joint news conference with Mr. Rumsfeld, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said, “Croatia sees in the United States not only a friend and partner but also an ally.” He also said his government supports President George W. Bush's policy of pre-emptive military action to stop terrorists before they can strike.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the Bush administration was eager to continue building better relations with Croatia.
“I look forward to the day when Croatia will become a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld had been scheduled to fly to London later Sunday to meet with British Defence Minister Geoff Hoon, but he cancelled the stop and was returning directly to Washington. Aides said Mr. Rumsfeld changed plans because he had more time than expected in talks with Mr. Hoon while the two were in Germany on Saturday.
Mr. Rumsfeld was in Munich for a NATO defence ministers meeting on Friday and to attend an annual conference on security policy. He left the conference after meeting privately with Jordan's King Abdullah II, who spoke at the event.
Jordan has provided much-welcomed support for the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, including a major field hospital in Afghanistan. Jordan hosts training for Iraqi police.
Croatia, which gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, has 50 troops in Afghanistan, including 44 military police, as part of the International Security Assistance Force headed by NATO. Croatia also has provided weapons and ammunition for the new Afghan national army.
The Croatian government, which was elected in November, is considering asking Parliament to approve sending troops to Iraq, Mr. Sanader said. He said that any such troops would be focused on humanitarian missions, as opposed to combat.
Croatia is one of three Balkan nations pursuing a Membership Action Plan designed by NATO to achieve the kinds of military reforms deemed necessary to be eligible for alliance membership. The other two countries are Albania and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.
Mr. Rumsfeld was the first Cabinet official to visit Croatia since former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was in the country in 1999.