Vilnius, 23 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush said today that with Lithuania's entry into NATO, its enemies will now be America's enemies and that the Lithuanian people will never again stand alone. "The long night of fear, uncertainty, and loneliness is over. You're joining the strong and growing family of NATO. Our alliance has made a solemn pledge of protection, and anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America. In the face of aggression, the brave people of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia will never again stand alone," Bush said.
Addressing a crowd of thousands gathered on Old Town Hall Square in Lithuania's capital Vilnius, President Bush said that NATO's decision on 21 November to invite Lithuania and six other countries to join the alliance was a great day in the history of Lithuania, the Baltic states, NATO, and also in the history of freedom.
Bush said that, although many doubted whether freedom would ever come to that country, the United States always recognized the independence of Lithuania and knew that arbitrary lines drawn by dictators would be erased. Alluding to the agreements that determined the fate of European countries in the 1930s and 1940s, Bush promised that there would no more Munichs, no more Yaltas.
Elaborating a theme that he has been emphasizing this week, Bush said that the new NATO members will contribute to NATO's common security. He said the strength of NATO does not only depend on the might of armies but on the character of men and women. And the Baltic states have faced danger and shown courage, Bush said. "You have known cruel oppression and withstood it. You have been held captive by an empire, and you outlived it. And because you have paid its cost, you know the value of human freedom," Bush said.
Bush also referred to the new challenges facing the alliance and the need to fight international terrorism. "Like the Nazis and the Communists before them, the terrorists seek to end lives and control all life. Like the Nazis and Communists before them, they will be opposed by free nations, and the terrorists will be defeated," Bush said.
After his public address, Bush paid a visit to the American Center before departing for Bucharest before noon.
Bush arrived in Vilnius on the evening of 22 November after a brief visit to St. Petersburg, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bush went directly to his hotel and made no public appearances.
Earlier today, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus presented Bush with Lithuania's highest decoration, the Grand Cross of the Order of Vytautas the Great, for his personal role in developing Lithuanian-American relations and aiding Lithuania's integration into the NATO alliance. President Bush then met privately with Adamkus for about 30 minutes. Both presidents were later joined by the presidents of the other two Baltic states, Latvia's Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Estonia's Arnold Ruutel.
This was the first visit by a U.S. president to Lithuania. President Bill Clinton came to Riga on 6 July 1994 and met the presidents of all three Baltic countries. Vice President Dan Quayle made a one-day visit to Vilnius on 7 February 1992.
Asked by RFE/RL for the reasons why Bush decided to visit Lithuania, President Adamkus said: "It is extremely difficult for me to say what factor determined [this decision]. I think that Lithuanian-Americans made a great effort, [as did] our friends in Congress, of whom Lithuania has quite a lot. Perhaps personal contacts also contributed somewhat, though I will not name them or how [they may have contributed]."
Security in Vilnius was very tight during Bush's visit. Large parts of the historic Old Town were off limits to cars and trucks. Pedestrians were also urged to avoid the area, and many appeared to have done so. No major incidents were reported.