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Bush backs Croatia bid to join NATO, EU

President Bush boosted Croatia’s aspirations to join NATO on Tuesday, saying it should be admitted to the Western alliance. ‘I consider Croatia a friend,’ the president said, adding that he would recommend a 2008 timetable at a NATO summit next month.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush gave a boost Tuesday to Croatia’s aspirations to join NATO, saying it should be admitted to the Western alliance within two years.

Bush said he would recommend the 2008 timetable when he attends a NATO summit next month in Riga, Latvia. He also said he supports Croatia’s membership in the European Union.

The president expressed his views during an Oval Office meeting with Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. “I consider the prime minister a friend; I consider Croatia a friend, as well,” Bush said.

The president said he has heard Croatia is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and that he would like to visit sometime. “About the only question we disagreed was whether Croatia or the United States had the most beautiful coastline,” Sanader said.

One problem facing Sanader is opposition at home to NATO membership, with opinion polls showing 30 percent of the population against it. Some Croatians claim being a part of NATO would make it a terror target.

While prospects that Croatia eventually will join NATO look good, its hopes of admission to the European Union are less promising.

Sanader said this month he wants EU membership to be fast-tracked and feels his country will be ready for membership by 2008.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said there could be no more EU enlargements after Romania and Bulgaria join Jan. 1 until the union has resolved the future of its stalled constitution.