Scheffer Says Croatia Makes Great Progress On Path To NATO
Croatia has made great progress on the path to NATO membership and for that it deserves a high assessment and it can hope to receive positive signals at a summit in Riga, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Zagreb on Thursday after talks with Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.
Joining NATO is based on efficiency and not on a summit or an invitation, Scheffer said. When it comes to efficiency Croatia can only be positively assessed, Scheffer stressed.
The summit in Riga at the end of November will not be about enlargement nor will invitations be distributed to new countries, but I am certain that NATO member-countries will give Croatia and the region a positive signal regarding membership of the alliance, Scheffer said.
He added there was still work that needed to be done, primarily in the strengthening of Croatia's public support regarding the country's joining NATO and the continuation of reforms and fight against corruption.
PM Sanader reiterated that Croatia's two priorities in foreign policy were joining NATO and the EU. "For us, NATO represents a community that defends the same values as the EU. That is the community of countries that Croatia wants to and must be in," Sanader said.
He said talks with Scheffer were very open, adding that later today the NATO secretary general would inform him of the content of the coming NATO summit in Riga.
"We are aware that the summit will not be about enlargement and that invitations will not be distributed, but the meeting is very important for us because we will able to see from the declaration text how is NATO sending a message to Croatia and other countries," the Croatian PM said.
Sanader informed Scheffer of efforts Croatia was making to advance cooperation in the region, notably through the transformation of CEFTA and its presidency of the SEECP, as well as the country's participation in NATO's trust fund for the reintegration of defence personnel in Bosnia-Herzegovina into civil society.
He also announced a conference on security issues that will be held at the beginning of next week in the southern Adriatic town of Dubrovnik. The conference will be attended by Sheffer's deputy.
NATO Secretary general said the alliance highly appreciated Croatia's leading role in the region, stressing that Croatia also gave its contribution to security by participating the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Mission in Afghanistan.
Commenting on a reporter's question, Scheffer said it was entirely untrue that NATO could ask new candidate countries to increase the number of soldiers in NATO missions in return for membership.
Asked to comment on information that there would be no NATO enlargement in 2008 wither, Scheffer said he also read that, adding that one should not believe such reports.
The Croatian PM told reporters that the reason for a lower public support to Croatia's membership of NATO was the fact that the alliance was equated with the intervention in Iraq. It is primarily the duty of the government, as well as of all political leaders in the country to explain to the public that this is not the case and to inform them of the importance of NATO membership, Sanader said.
He expressed conviction Croatia would achieve this goal, stressing that a positive signal from Riga was necessary.