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Croatia To Join NATO In 2006?

Croatia may join the countries which can count on an invitation to join NATO in 2006 after the June 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul, Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said after talks on Croatia-NATO co-operation with the alliance's Secretary-General, George Robertson, in Brussels on Tuesday.

During the half-hour face-to-face talks, it was established that the intensive three-year co-operation had been mostly moving upward, Picula told journalists after the meeting. The minister said he had recalled several important events in the Croatia-NATO relations such as the country's admission to Partnership for Peace programme in May 2000, its joining the Vilnius Group in 2001, and its admission to Membership Action Plan (MAP) in May 2002.

MAP membership formally marked the institutionalisation of relations with NATO on the path towards full membership, Picula said.

This year, besides the reform of the armed forces, Croatia completed the first and started the second cycle of Membership Action Plan, Picula said. As a rule, candidate-countries first must complete the three cycles of the Action Plan to be able to count on a membership invitation, Picula explained. Asked how Robertson assessed Croatia's progress on the road to full NATO membership, Picula said that there was "confidence built on results". "Croatia has created the image of a country which by reforming itself and its armed forces, contributes to regional stability.

Croatia's achievements in the promotion of good neighbourly relations in this part of Europe, which is still considered insufficiently stable in political and economic terms, were certainly noticed by NATO and they make one of the points we have won," Picula said.

He also said that in the past few years "Croatia has changed its status of a country receiving security assistance to the status of a country participating in as many as seven peace operations around the world".

The Picula-Robertson meeting was held two weeks after the presentation of a second national programme for NATO membership and two months before Robertson is to hand over his post to his successor, Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

(NewsBase 31.x.03)

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