- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

President Bush yesterday welcomed seven former Soviet Bloc nations into NATO, urging those countries that “know what tyranny is” to help him rally the alliance in the global war on terrorism.

Diplomats and leaders from Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia enthusiastically greeted Mr. Bushs speech on the South Lawn of the White House.

He reminded those assembled that NATO already has pledged to defend its members from the new threat of terrorism.

“Some wondered whether NATO could adapt to the new threats of the 21st century,” Mr. Bush said. “Those doubts were laid to rest on September the 12th, 2001, when NATO invoked — for the first time in its history — Article 5 of our charter, which states that an attack against one NATO ally is an attack against all.”

NATO was formed by the allies of World War II to counter the rising power of the Soviet Union.

“Today, our alliance faces a new enemy, which has brought death to innocent people from New York to Madrid,” the president said. “Terrorists hate everything this alliance stands for. They despise our freedom. They fear our unity. They seek to divide us.

“They will fail. We will not be divided.”

With the addition of the seven countries, membership in the 55-year-old North Atlantic Treaty Organization has grown to 26. The benefits of membership begin immediately, and representatives of the new members will take part in their first meeting Friday in Brussels.

The inclusion in NATO of countries formerly hidden behind the Soviet Unions Iron Curtain — Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined in 1990 — has rankled Russia, but the process shows no sign of stopping.

Three other nations — Albania, Croatia and Macedonia — hope to join the alliance soon, and looked to bolster their chances by attending Mr. Bushs speech yesterday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that his government intends to take steps to defend itself should it perceive NATOs eastward push as a threat.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a breakfast interview with reporters yesterday that fighter planes would begin “air policing” over NATOs new Baltic members by yesterday afternoon.

Mr. Bushs speech did not directly address Russias concerns, but he used that countrys history of aggression in Eastern Europe as a metaphor for the new threat of terrorism.

“When NATO was founded, the people of these seven nations were captives to an empire,” Mr. Bush said. “They endured bitter tyranny. They struggled for independence. They earned their freedom through courage and perseverance.”

Mr. Bush — who has come under criticism from Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts for forging what he called a “fraudulent coalition” in Iraq and alienating those who came to the aid of the United States in Afghanistan — noted that many NATO members have helped in both theaters.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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