- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

NATO’s seven new Eastern European members will bring a perspective on the war on terror that closely tracks the tough stand taken by the Bush administration, Slovakian Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said yesterday.

Given Slovakia’s unhappy experience with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the past century, “we know that it is necessary to fight for democracy every day, that these things do not come automatically,” he said.

None of the seven new members — Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia — is a military power, but they are expected to affect profoundly the internal dynamics of the NATO alliance, which now numbers 26 countries.

All boast strong ties to Washington, often dating back to the Cold War, and oppose efforts by France and other Western European states to build up competing European military and political institutions to challenge U.S. power. Countries such as Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria strongly backed the U.S.-led war in Iraq and have contributed to the postwar peacekeeping missions in Iraq.

President Bush, at a White House welcoming ceremony yesterday, said the new members will “bring moral clarity to the purposes of our alliance.”

“They understand our cause in Afghanistan and in Iraq because tyranny for them is still a fresh memory. These nations know that when great democracies fail to confront danger far worse peril can follow,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Dzurinda was one of several East European leaders who signed a letter on the eve of last year’s military action in Iraq supporting the U.S. hard line against Saddam Hussein, infuriating French President Jacques Chirac and other European critics of the war.

The Slovak prime minister, meeting with a small group of reporters hours before the White House ceremony, said tensions within NATO over Iraq have eased significantly in recent months, in particular since the terrorist bombings earlier this month in Madrid.

“It is always easier to break a glass than to put it back together, but the [trend] since Madrid has been very good,” he said.

But he made clear that a French-led push to boost the European Union’s defense capabilities can succeed only if it does not duplicate efforts to work with the United States and NATO.

Mr. Dzurinda said he hoped NATO’s summit in Istanbul in June will offer a clear path for membership for three Balkan states — Albania, Croatia and Macedonia. He said an invitation for eventual membership would be a strong signal for the region, recently rocked by deadly ethnic violence in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, in an e-mail interview with The Washington Times, said his country is determined to achieve membership in both NATO and the European Union.

“Our determination to continue with the necessary reforms is unshakeable,” he said. “Europe will not be whole, free and at peace until the Balkans are integrated into Euro-Atlantic institutions.”

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