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President Bush to Welcome New NATO Members - 2002-11-18


President Bush travels to Europe Tuesday for talks on possible military action against Iraq and to welcome new members into the NATO alliance.

The president and Mrs. Bush begin their five day trip in Prague at a summit of the NATO alliance which will welcome new members for only the second time since the end of the Cold War.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says it is part of NATO's "historic transformation" to better respond to threats of the 21st century.

"The end of the Cold War has meant the end of the Cold War threat of massive armies contending for the Central European plains," she said. "And all NATO members today face common threats from terrorists and the states that sponsor them."

Because of those changing threats, Ms. Rice says the alliance is working to make its forces lighter, more agile, more flexible and better able to work together.

While in Prague, President Bush will meet separately with the leaders of the Czech Republic, Turkey and France to discuss NATO, Iraq and the fight against terrorism.

Following the NATO summit, Mr. Bush will travel to St. Petersburg for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Chechen terrorism is likely to be near the top of that agenda as the Russian leader wants to expand his fight into neighboring Georgia where he says some Chechen rebels are based. President Bush has repeatedly asked for patience as U.S. troops help train Georgian security forces to better combat Chechen separatists.

Ms. Rice says Washington wants a negotiated settlement to the crisis which, while recognizing that Chechnya is part of Russia, also addresses what she calls "ethnic groups that have particular aspirations and cultural ties."

"We still believe that the best way to resolve this situation is through a political solution that can take care of legitimate aspirations of the Chechen people," Ms. Rice said.

Following Russia, President Bush travels to Lithuania where he will hold a private meeting with the country's president before a larger session where they will be joined by Baltic allies Estonia and Latvia.

The president and First Lady end their trip in Bucharest where Mr. Bush will meet with the Romanian President and make remarks in a central square.

Ms. Rice says it is a trip that will allow the president to discuss his concerns about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and how to stop them as well as a chance to restate his vision of a Europe "whole, free, and at peace."

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