NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop
Scheffer (C), Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lulzim Basha (L) and
his Croatian counterpart Gordan Jandrokovic (R) sign on accession
protocols at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 9, 2008. NATO
member states signed on Wednesday here accession protocols for Albania and
Croatia, a key step toward formal membership of the two countries in the
alliance. (Xinhua Photo)
BRUSSELS, July 9 (Xinhua) -- NATO member
states on Wednesday signed accession protocols for Albania and Croatia in a key
step toward formal membership of the two countries in the alliance.
A signing ceremony was held at a meeting of the decision-making North Atlantic Council at the NATO headquarters in Brussels. The signing was witnessed by foreign ministers of the two invitee countries.
In his opening speech, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer hailed the signing of the protocols as a historical achievement for the two countries and for NATO.
"This is a historical achievement, not only for those two countries, but for the entire Atlantic community of nations, for both Albania and Croatia come from a region ... which had witnessed the first major conflict on European soil since the end of World War II," said de Hoop Scheffer, who chaired the meeting.
The signing of accession protocols is a key step toward formal NATO membership for the two Western Balkan countries. The 26 NATO member states will now ratify the protocols according to their national requirements and procedures. De Hoop Scheffer hoped that the process would be completed by the next NATO summit in April 2009.
"Today, Albania and Croatia have begun the final stage. And I hope that, if all goes right... they will be able to cross the finish line together at our summit next April in Strasbourg and Kehl," he said.
The NATO chief said he did not foresee any problems with the ratification process.
"As of today, the ratification process can begin in the 26 NATO parliaments. I am very confident that they will agree that these countries have proven their democratic credentials, and that they are in a position to further the goals of this alliance," he said.
He indicated that there is little hope for Macedonia to catch up and finally join NATO at the same time with Albania and Croatia.
"Given the fact that we just saw the signing by the 26 allies of the accession protocols for Albania and Croatia, that moment, unfortunately, is over. It means that the ratification process in the parliaments will now start, and that is the ratification process for Albania and Croatia," he said.
He reiterated NATO's open-door policy toward other European countries. "Today's ceremony will not be the last of its kind. The door of NATO remains open to other democracies who are ready and willing to foster the goals of the Washington Treaty and shoulder the responsibilities of membership," de Hoop Scheffer told the meeting.
Macedonia, which was expected to be invited to join NATO alongside Albania and Croatia at the bloc's summit in April in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, was left behind as the country failed to solve a dispute over its name with Greece.
Greece, a NATO member country, blocked the invitation to Macedonia over fears that the former Yugoslav republic's constitutional name -- Republic of Macedonia -- implied territorial ambitions for the neighboring northern Greek province of Macedonia.
NATO leaders agreed that an invitation would be extended immediately after the resolution of the dispute.
De Hoop Scheffer on Wednesday tried to console Macedonia.
"There is a seat at the NATO table reserved for you, once the bilateral issue is resolved. I hope -- and every NATO nation hopes-- that this will happen as soon as possible," he told a press conference shortly after the signing ceremony.
He asked for flexibility from Macedonia on the name issue, saying the Bucharest summit decision was also about good neighborly relations.
"People in Skopje should also think what this means... There is a new government now in Skopje. Let us hope that we will see flexibility."
Apart from Macedonia, Ukraine and Georgia are also trying hard to move closer to NATO. At the Bucharest summit, they failed to get NATO's membership action plan, the final stage before accession invitation.
NATO leaders have decided to leave the issue to their foreign ministers, who will make a judgment at a meeting in December.