NATO enlargement ceremony at White House March 29
WASHINGTON (AFP) Mar 23, 2004
US President George W. Bush in a White House ceremony next week will host the heads of government of seven former eastern bloc countries now joining NATO, a spokesman said Tuesday.

On March 29, Bush will welcome the prime ministers of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, as well as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Government chiefs of three other countries also seeking NATO membership, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia, will also be present.

"These Central and East European democracies have already acted as allies through their strong solidarity and actions in the war on terrorism, and in helping to strengthen peace and democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq," the White House spokesman said.

"As NATO acts to face the new challenges of the 21st century, the membership of these seven nations in NATO will advance the cause of freedom and strengthen the Atlantic Alliance, the central pillar of transatlantic relations," he said.

On the same day, the seven nations will hand their ratification documents to US officials -- the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty is deposited in Washington -- in the last step before adhesion to NATO.

A formal adhesion ceremony is scheduled to take place in Brussels on April 2 and will be attended by the foreign ministers of the current 19 and seven new member countries.