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NATO: Robertson Hails Balkan Cooperation Agreement

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson has given his strong support to the cooperation that Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia have agreed to enact in order to speed up the integration process into NATO and the European Union. During a visit to Albania, Robertson said the accord will do much to enhance security in the region. RFE/RL correspondent Alban Bala reports from Tirana.

Tirana, 2 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary-General George Robertson is hailing the regional cooperation agreement reached between Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia.

During a visit to Tirana on 29 November, Robertson said the so-called Tirana Initiative is a good start in meeting the requirements of political and military reforms ahead of eventual integration into Euro-Atlantic structures: "I believe that this new cooperation between the three countries, which I think are being called the Ohrid-Adriatic group, is also a signal to NATO, and to the European Union, and to the international community that cooperation is the hallmark of the approach of those countries."

Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano says the Tirana Initiative will come into force in January 2003: "We will draft a cooperation and co-action plan between Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia on a political and military level, based as well on common actions, which will reinforce regional security."

The three Balkan countries failed in their bid to join NATO during the alliance's recent summit in Prague. The idea to coordinate their efforts was first expressed on the sidelines of the summit in a meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and the presidents of the three nations.

Nano says the three countries will undertake "common initiatives, common military training, and will make a common representation" in future meetings with the U.S., NATO, and the EU.

Robertson acknowledged the disappointment in Tirana of not receiving an invitation to join NATO, but said his message to Albania is that "NATO's door remains open."

NATO requires that Albania take serious steps to upgrade its military, as well as undertake political and legal reforms, before possible admission. Robertson specifically mentioned border security as one of the region's biggest challenges: "The region is still far too free for criminals, and therefore the reinstatement of secure borders -- where people can move freely but where criminal trafficking is stopped -- is one of the key objectives which we are helping countries in the region. If we could achieve the multiethnicity of the criminal classes, then this would be a very harmonious region."

Albanian President Alfred Moisiu said in Prague during the summit that NATO membership is what he called a "fundamental orientation in Albanian foreign policy."

On 21 November, NATO formally invited seven formerly communist countries in Eastern and Central Europe -- Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania -- to join the alliance in 2004, in what will be NATO's biggest expansion in its 53-year history.