Bush backs Croatian entry into EU, NATO

photo.jpgCroatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader met with US George W. Bush on Tuesday (October 17th) in the Oval Office. During a 50-minute talk, they discussed a broad range of issues, from economic co-operation to conflict areas around the world. Bush also delivered a strong message of support for Croatia’s hopes of integration.

The trip took place at an especially favourable juncture in Croatia-US ties. New Jersey-based Barr Pharmaceuticals has just bought Croatian drug manufacturer Pliva, Croatia has announced it will boost its deployment of soldiers to Afghanistan, and the United States has once again approved military aid to Croatia.

“I thank the people of Croatia for their support in Afghanistan of a young democracy,” Bush said. “I also believe it’s in the world’s interest that Croatia join NATO, as well as the EU. 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.”

“We believe in a strong partnership of both countries, there is no alternative to it. The United States and Croatia have to co-operate in areas of mutual interest,” Sanader said, describing Croatian-American relations as excellent. Indeed, the Croatian leader said, he and Bush disagreed on only one issue: which of their two countries has a more beautiful coast.

After his talks with Bush, Sanader met with Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Rumsfeld too expressed support for Croatia’s entry into NATO. He said Croatian defence reforms impressed him and emphasised that the United States is ready to help Croatia with preparations for joining the Alliance.

Their talks also touched on regional issues. “We know there’s still some unfinished business in our part of the world,” Sanader said during a joint press conference afterwards. “There is still the final status of Kosovo, possible changes to the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. What we want is to find the stabilisation, political stabilisation of the region that’s in our best interests, that’s in the best interests of Europe and the United States of America.”

The issue of an Article 98 agreement — a bilateral pact in which countries agree not to seek prosecution of US citizens in the International Criminal Court (ICC) — did not come up.

“Obviously it is something that the United States is interested in,” Rumsfeld told reporters. “We believe that the ICC agreement provides for Article 98 arrangements, and we just did not happen to bring it up in this meeting.”

On Monday, the first day of his three-day visit, Sanader had lunch with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the State Department. They talked for twice as long as than planned, discussing such issues as the expansion of CEFTA to include Moldova and Ukraine, the Russia-Georgia crisis, the Kosovo situation, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

They concluded that relations between their two countries are better than ever.

During his stay, Sanader also had a closed-door meeting with US Vice President Dick Cheney and gave a speech at Johns Hopkins University.

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