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Prime Minister on Visit to Washington
By Visnja Miočić | Published  10/30/2006 | Politics | Unrated
President Bush Gives Sanader Firm Date of 2008 for NATO Membership

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, left, with U.S. President George W. Bush inside the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C. on October 17. (Photo courtesy of the White House)

By Frank Vinko Mustac

Obviously pleased with the outcome of his White House meeting with President George W. Bush and other discussions with high-ranking U.S. Government officials during a three-day visit to Washington, D.C., Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader spoke in glowing terms about what he essentially described as an extremely important milestone on his countrys path towards NATO and EU membership and a great success in the brief annals of Croatian diplomacy. 'Its a historic day for Croatia. Its a historic day in the bilateral relationship of the United States and Croatia,' Sanader told well over 200 guests on October 17 assembled for evening reception held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in the nations capital in honor of the Croatian leader. Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Sanader met with President Bush, who offered some welcome news to the Croatian, specifically that the U.S. government was committed to a firm date when Croatia should become a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The President also offered his governments renewed support for Croatias bid to join the European Union (EU). 'I believe it's in the world's interest that Croatia join NATO, as well as the European Union,' said President Bush seated next to Prime Minster Sanader in the Oval Office inside the White House a little after 3 p.m. on October 17 'To that end, when I go to Riga, I will make the case that Croatia should be admitted. It seems like a reasonable date would be 2008.' Riga, the capital of Latvia, is where Bush will be on November 28-29 with other heads of state during a NATO summit meeting, in part to discuss expansion of the trans-Atlantic alliance. Prime Minister Sander also received similar assurances of support for Croatias NATO and EU membership during talks held with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on October 16; with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on October 17; and with Vice President Dick Cheney on October 18. At the Ritz Carlton reception, Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the third highest-ranking State Department official, echoed President Bushs support for Croatias NATO membership aspirations.

'We hope to see that decision made by NATO in the year 2008,' said Burns, also announcing that Croatia had pledged to significantly increase the number of troops it will send to Afghanistan in the near future.
Currently 150 members of the Croatian Armed Forces are stationed in various locations throughout that country as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Telling Sanader and the audience that Secretary Rice had planned to attend the reception but was called away to Asia in response to the recent nuclear weapon test by North Korea, Burns also stated that at the Riga summit in November, Croatia should be the lead nation in NATO expansion. 'Croatia is in essence a symbol in Southeast Europe of what a free and democratic country should be,' said Burns, who spoke prior to Sanader at the podium. 'This is a promising relationship,' he said, referring to the current diplomatic ties between the United States and Croatia.

'I want to say how much we respect the Prime Minster and appreciate his reform mindedness,' Burns said. 'Mr. Prime Minister, this has been one successful visit for you, for the Croatian people and for the United Sates of America.' U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Robert Bradtke, who began his diplomatic career in the Croatian capital Zagreb some 30 years ago, spoke at the podium about Prime Minister Sanaders meeting with President Bush from a personal perspective. 'To be in the Oval Office today to hear your commitment to the EU and NATO was truly one of the most memorable days of my career,' Bradtke told the Croatian Prime Minister.
Flanked by members of his delegation, including Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Kolinda Grabar Kitarović; Minister of Culture Božo Biškupić; and Croatian Ambassador the United States Neven Jurica, Sanader speaking at the hotel reception said the commitments offered by President Bush and other U.S. officials came largely as a result of Croatias own commitment to freedom, democracy, human rights, minority rights and free markets.  He also recognized the assistance received from the United States and the EU in achieving the military and government structural reforms required of EU and NATO candidate countries.
The Prime Minister recognized Croatian President Stjepan Mesic and the Croatian Parliament for their leadership roles in bringing Croatia closer to NATO and the EU. 'Im not going to forget the Croatian veterans who fought for Croatian independence,' Sanader said. With the final status of Kosovo yet to be resolved and possible changes of the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sanader said there is still unfinished business in the region of Southeast Europe.

'We will be part of the solution. We will be part of the common policy  EU plus the United States of America,' Sanader said 'You can count on Croatia. Croatia will be a reliable partner.'

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