JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary General of NATO): Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It goes without saying that today is a good day for NATO. It's a festive day, it's a good day for Albania and Croatia, and let me add it's a good day, I think, for the Euro-Atlantic community as a whole. And it's a good day for Euro-Atlantic security.
With the signature of the accession protocols just a few minutes ago here in this very building, we've taken a major step towards enlarging the Euro-Atlantic family of democratic nations that is NATO.
And on behalf of the 26 current NATO allies let me say to the Foreign Ministers, Luzlim Basha of Albania and Gordon Jandrocović of Croatia, one simple word: congratulations, dear friends. Congratulations. And through you congratulations to the people of Albania and the people of Croatia.
This success is due to hard work, a lot of hard work, and hard work during a considerable amount of time. The difficult reforms that you have made and continue to make to meet NATO standards benefit your countries in and of themselves. And they will also help to make the Alliance stronger. That as we've always said these reforms were not for NATO's sake, these reforms were for Albania's and Croatia's sake.
So as of today and after the signing of the accession protocols the ratification process can begin in the 26 NATO parliaments. And I'm very confident that all those parliamentarians in the 26 NATO nations will agree that Albania and Croatia have proven their democratic credentials and that they are in a position to further the goals of the Alliance. And I'm sure that they will also confirm the parliaments, the ones who have to ratify, that there is no enlargement fatigue in NATO. Our door is open and it will stay open, as I also said a moment ago at the festive session of the North Atlantic Council.
And if I say the door is open and will remain open I hope that this is a message which will also be heard loud and clear in Skopje. There is a seat at the NATO table reserved for you as well once the bilateral issue is resolved. I hope soon. And that process can start as soon as possible, but we also know that we have to find a solution for the name issue in this regard. But let me reconfirm the door is open.
Ladies and gentlemen, you're probably slightly tired of hearing me say, being a child of the Beatles generation, that the road to NATO membership is a long and winding one. Today Albania and Croatia have begun the final stage, and I hope that if all goes right, and I'll do my best that all goes right, and I'll try to be helpful that all goes right, they will be able to cross the finish line, the very end of that road together at our summit next April in Strasbourg and Kehl.
So once again, congratulations. I'm joined by two Ministers, two Foreign Ministers of nations who have become and who are not only consumers but also exporters of security, and that is important to note because we do see Albanian and Croatian armed forces in NATO's operations and missions. Ministers, and through you the people of Albania and Croatia, my heartfelt congratulations, and let me first ask Minister Basha for his remarks and then Minister Jandrocović, of course. Minister Basha, please.
LUZLIM BASHA (Foreign Minister, Albania): Thank you very much, Secretary General for giving me the floor. Thank you very much for the support, the assistance, the cooperation, the guidance that you have provided through all these years in person and through the international staff at the Secretariat.
This is a crowning moment of a milestone in our national history that started with invitation extended in Bucharest by the member countries of NATO to Albania and Croatia to start the accession talks. Three months later we are here at NATO Headquarters having successfully completed the negotiations. Once again demonstrating both our resolve and our capabilities, and we have witnessed the signing of the accession protocols.
We see today as a stage that marks the successful crowning of reforms, hard reforms of several sectors; political reforms, economic reforms, security reforms in our countries. In Albania the drive to complete these reforms is a national one and a bipartisan one.
But today also marks a month of reflection to see the path before us. And the path before us is a bright one. It's one where continuing reforms that we encouraged as a result of the decision in Bucharest will bring about the full transformation of our societies into valuable parts of the Euro-Atlantic family.
Today we serve side by side the allies in missions as far as Afghanistan. We've proven our capabilities to do that in a professional way. Tomorrow we will take the full burden of sacrifice, common sacrifice, so that in togetherness we can secure our freedoms and protect our future.
I'm here today to also guarantee and reconfirm on behalf of the Albanian government and the entire political establishment in Albania, Albania's resolve to continue down the path of reforms which made it possible for Albania to be transformed into a nation who is now at the doorstep of the Alliance. I would also like to repeat what I mentioned to the Council just a few minutes ago our request for a swift and rapid ratification process so that Albania, alongside Croatia, can take their seats with full rights in the table of the Council in the soonest moment possible, hopefully before or during the next summit.
Let me also say that Albania will continue to fully support the Euro-Atlantic agenda for the region. In this regard we welcome support and will do our utmost to accelerate the efforts for each and every other country in the region, starting with our neighbours, to have a speedy and accelerated process of integration, European and Euro-Atlantic as it is of their choosing. In this regard our contribution through a moderate foreign policy that is focused on regional cooperation and dialogue will continue to be unwavering in the face of today's situation and challenges that may come. Thank you very much.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you very much, Minister Basha. Minister Jandrocović, please.
GORDON JANDROCOVIĆ (Foreign Minister, Croatia): Thank you, Secretary General, (inaudible...), ladies and gentlemen. Today is a great day for Croatia. Today we have witnessed the signing of the protocol to the North Atlantic Treaty and the accession of the Republic of Croatia. Permanent representatives of every NATO member state confirmed by fixing their signature on the protocol the acceptance of Croatia to the great Euro-Atlantic family of nations.
I would like to thank you, Mr. Secretary General and your international staff for providing support and guidance to Croatia on her way to NATO. Also I would like to thank all NATO nations for their support in welcoming Croatia to the Alliance.
Since Croatia is joining the security alliance of sovereign states I would also like to express my profound gratitude to the ones who have made Croatia sovereign and who have brought her freedom and democracy, the veterans of the homeland war. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't be standing here today.
The signing of the protocol has brought Croatia closer to achieving one of its strategic priorities. We are joining the Alliance of nations with whom we share the core common values: commitment to democracy, freedom, free market economy, respect of human rights and rule of law. Croatia also shares the same interests with allied nations; strategic Euro-Atlantic partnership and peace and stability in Europe. Croatia is and Croatia will continue to be a strong and reliable ally ready to safeguard the values and interests of the Alliance as we have shown in Afghanistan.
Croatia's membership in the Alliance is important for the security of Croatia. But it is also good news for security and stability of Southeast Europe and the positive example for our neighbours. And Croatia will continue to support our neighbours in their efforts to achieve membership in NATO.
Six years of comprehensive reforms are behind us, involving not only the armed forces and the defence sector but also society as a whole. Croatia is committed to continue these efforts for the benefits of our citizens. In the end I would like to congratulate my Albanian colleague on the occasion of the signing the same protocol. And thank you again Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you very much, Minister. Thank you, Gordon.
JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): We'll take some questions? First question's here. Then there, then there.
Q:So there are no… you said the door is still open for Macedonia. You mentioned Skopje. So… but there are no signs that the name issue is going to be solved very quickly. So what will happen with the invitation? Is it… how long it will be open? Those doors?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: That is a question that is difficult for me to answer. But I said what I said. The solution for the name issue will have to be found. I would have hoped that I was not joined by two but by three ministers at this very day. That is unfortunately not possible and you know the result and the conclusions of the Bucharest Summit and that situation has not changed. In other words the door is open, but a solution will have to be found.
Q:(Inaudible...), BBC World Service. Secretary General, how worried are you about the newly belligerent tone from Russia towards existing and future members? The Russian prime ministry talking about Georgian actions bringing the South Caucasus's on the edge of a new armed conflict with unpredictable consequences, and also warning that it will react with military technical methods to the deployment of the American missile shield closer to its borders. What's your reaction to those two statements?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: My reaction is that this is unhelpful rhetoric which will not bring parties any closer. So I think it's unhelpful. I think we could better do without this kind of rhetoric. That is all I have to say about this.
Q:Mark John from Reuters. If I can just follow up on the Macedonia question, Secretary General. Only six weeks ago you were still expressing the hope that the name issue could be resolved, and that therefore Macedonia would be able to accede at the same time as the other two in the spring of next year.
With this step today, I mean, effectively it's fallen behind, so how do you rate the chance of that still happening? Is it still possible? Is it very difficult, or is it essentially ruled out now as a possibility?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, the formal answer here should be that given the fact that we just saw the signature by the 26 allies of the accession protocols for Albania and Croatia that moment unfortunately is over. It means that now the ratification process in the parliaments will start, and that is the ratification process for Albania and Croatia. And that is the conclusion I have to draw. That is also why I'm standing here, as I said, full of joy about the signing of the protocols for Albania and Croatia and slightly sad.
But again, people in Skopje should also think what this means. I say again, we saw, and you saw, the results of the Bucharest Summit, which were also about good neighbourly relations. There is a new government now in Skopje. Let us hope that we'll see flexibility. But the formal answer should be, unfortunately and I don't like to give this formal answer, that this process for Albania and Croatia will now start.
APPATHURAI: We have time for two more. One here and then one here.
Q:(Inaudible...) Albanian Television. To the Secretary General, what do you expect from Albania until the next summit, and what are the main concerns? And for Albanian Minister, could you list please some of the main reforms and do you guarantee that the deadlines are going to be respected?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Let me give the honour to Minister Basha first.
BASHA: Let me recall that it was the determined drive and the unwavering political commitment of Albania in pursuing the reforms in the area of consolidation of democratic institutions, consolidation of the rule of law, the determined and very successful fight against crime and corruption, liberalization of economy, that brought about a fundamental shift of the attitude of the member countries of NATO towards Albania and ultimately the invitation extended to Albania in Bucharest.
This is also very strong encouragement, and as both the Albania and he Euro-Atlantic community has witnessed, immediately after Bucharest Albania has continued to press forward with reforms. Some of them pivotal to Albania's democratic functioning and not very easy to achieve, requiring broad political consensus, such as judicial reform, and in particular the electoral reform.
The continuing consensus, the broad political consensus and the determination of the government to capitalize on the plebiscitary support of the Albanian public for the reform path have proven amply sufficient and are at the core of the reforms that Albania is continuing to pursue. The electoral reform is continuing. As you know, the finalization of the electoral code after the constitutional changes is now in process, again after bipartisan consensus between the main partisan parliaments to have a commission elaborate on the proposals.
Likewise, the electoral infrastructure is being put in place. And other reforms, in particular those that make Albania one of the most attractive countries in Europe for foreign investments, have proven very effectively. The figures speak for themselves, continuous and robust economic growth, continuous and robust revenue growth, transparent and efficient, redistribution of revenues through a transparent program, budget program, are some of the areas that I would like to bring again to the attention as their success has proven crucial in getting us where we are today and we strongly believe that they'll continue in order to make this irreversible.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I can briefly echo that. If you ask me what does NATO expect, NATO expects, the allies expect the continuation of this reform process, as Minister Basha was referring to. Which is important. But I say again, it is not reform because I or the NATO allies are asking for this reform, and that's as relevant for Albania as for Croatia. These are necessary reforms in their own right and they are also, of course, important criteria. They have been important criteria and they still are, for the process of accession.
Now as I said, these two nations have passed the important test at the Bucharest Summit, because there the allies said you're welcome. Now we're going into the ratification process and in those parliaments, in that ratification process, the discussion will also be on reform.
But let me say that as a Secretary General I'm confident, and let us hope indeed, I'll join the two Foreign Ministers here, that the ratification process can be ended swiftly and on time.
APPATHURAI: The last question is here.
Q:My question is to all three. Augustin Palokaj, from Jutarnji list. Do you envisage any problem in ratification process from some countries that might use unresolved bilateral issues to delay ratification process? I will not name the countries, but let's say southern Albanian neighbour or northern Croatia neighbour?
JANDROCOVIĆ: No, in Croatia we don't expect any obstacles, any problem. And we have excellent signals for all our allies, and we expect that very shortly, very smoothly, all parliaments will ratify these protocols.
BASHA: Well, the emphasis today has been on togetherness, commonality of views, the readiness for common sacrifice, common future and shared values, and we strongly believe that these are the main ingredients on which the ratification process will be based, whereas we will continue to pursue at the bilateral, regional and multilateral level a foreign policy that is based on dialogue, moderation and understanding.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: No, I don't expect problems.
APPATHURAI: Thank you very much.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you.