Praising Croatia for its progress in meeting NATO membership criteria, top Alliance officials urged the country on Wednesday (June 6th) to keep up the pace of reform.
“There was a clear sense from everyone around the table that Croatia has made great progress,” the AP quoted Alliance spokesman James Appathurai as saying, following Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader’s meetings with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and the North Atlantic Council, the 26-nation Pact’s principal decision-making body.
Accompanied by Defence Minister Berislav Roncevic, Sanader briefed NATO ambassadors about the implementation of required reforms. He also discussed Croatia’s participation in international peace operations, including the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
In December, the Croatian Parliament approved a decision clearing the way for an increase in the country’s contribution to ISAF from 148 soldiers to up to 200 this year. Next year, up to 100 additional Croatian troops are expected to head to Afghanistan.
Sanader also told the North Atlantic Council about the recent spoke in public support for NATO membership.
In a poll last month by the Croatian branch of the GfK Group, one of the top five market research organisations in the world, 52% out of 1,000 respondents said they backed Croatia’s NATO bid, up from 43% in March.
In another survey, by Croatia’s Accent agency between May 21st and 27th, more than 57% of Croats supported joining NATO. The majority of the 1,000 respondents said they believe Croatia would join the Alliance within the next five years and only 3% thought this will never happen. About 80% of those surveyed said NATO membership would benefit the country’s economy and security and would boost its position in the international arena.
All NATO ambassadors “gave clear support to Croatia and positively assessed what we are doing”, Croatian news agency HINA quoted Sanader as saying. Their only message was to “continue, keep these ambitions and there will be no problems”, he added after the meeting with the North Atlantic Council.
Croatia has completed the five-year cycle of the Membership Action Plan. The programme, introduced in 1999, offers advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance.
The country’s leaders hope that, along with Albania and Macedonia, Croatia will receive a membership invitation during NATO’s summit in Bucharest next April. The actual entry process is expected to take up to two years to complete.
All NATO ambassadors acknowledge the progress Croatia has made and is making, de Hoop Scheffer said on Wednesday. “The central message is hold this pace, remain ambitious when it comes to public support, return of refugees and judicial reform,” he added, stressing NATO’s readiness to welcome the country as a full member once it has met the entry criteria.