Wrapping up a two-day summit in Riga, leaders of the 26 NATO countries invited Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Montenegro and Serbia to join the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme — a key step towards membership in the Alliance.Â
“Taking into account the importance of long term stability in the Western Balkans and acknowledging the progress made so far by BiH, Montenegro and Serbia, we have today invited these three countries to join PfP and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC),” the text of the Riga summit Declaration said.
“In taking this step, we re-affirm the importance we attach to the values and principles set out in the EAPC and PfP basic documents, and notably expect Serbia and BiH to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).”
BiH, Montenegro and Serbia can offer valuable contributions to regional stability and security, the NATO leaders said, adding that they want to encourage further positive developments in the region.
Commenting on the decision, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer described it as a significant political move. “In some moments you have to decide whether you will do something or not. The Allies, with my support, decided to do it,” he told reporters.
EU security chief Javier Solana, meanwhile, welcomed the invitations, saying they represented another major boost for efforts by the Western Balkan states to overcome the past. Local leaders in Sarajevo, Podgorica and Belgrade also hailed the decision, saying it would help promote security, stability and the reform process.
In their declaration, the NATO leaders also welcomed the efforts of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia to achieve NATO membership, and held out the promise of invitations in the near future “to countries that meet NATO’s performance-based standards and are able to contribute to Euro-Atlantic security and stability”.
They took particular note of the improved conduct of parliamentary elections in Albania in July 2005, Croatia’s full co-operation with the ICTY, and Macedonia’s successful conduct of parliamentary elections this year.
Reform efforts in all three countries must be sustained, however, the declaration said. Albania was urged to make further progress in rule of law and defence reforms. Croatia should seek to boost popular support for its NATO membership bid, while Macedonia should press ahead with reforms in the political system, the economy, defence, rule of law, and the judiciary.
The NATO declaration also strongly backed UN special envoy for Kosovo status Martti Ahtisaari “in his efforts to conclude the process”. It called on all parties to work together in a constructive manner, show flexibility, meet the internationally endorsed standards and participate in local civic institutions.
“This should result in a settlement that improves stability in Southeast Europe, enhances the entire region’s prospects for integration with Euro-Atlantic institutions and is acceptable to the people of Kosovo,” the declaration said.