There was a celebration at the White House Thursday, a celebration of the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The foreign ministers of seven NATO candidate countries joined President Bush for the occasion.
Their timing could not have been better.
Just hours before the event at the White House, the U.S. Senate formally ratified documents to bring these nations into NATO. The foreign ministers of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia, were on hand to watch the vote.
They gathered around President Bush for a ceremony originally designed to put pressure on the senate to approve NATO expansion. Instead, there was celebration in the air.
Mr. Bush praised the action taken by senate. He then called on the legislatures of the other current NATO members to do the same and quickly ratify the expansion of the alliance.
"These nations will make NATO stronger. And we need that strength for all the work that lies ahead," he said.
The president said NATO's mission is changing. He said it protected the peace through 40 winters of Cold War. Mr. Bush stressed that nations that were once behind the "Iron Curtain" are joining the alliance as it deals with security concerns beyond Europe.
"We must continue to fight global terror and strongly oppose the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," he said. "NATO itself must develop new military capabilities to meet the emerging dangers of a new era."
President Bush said the seven candidates for NATO membership know only too well what it is like to survive tyranny. He said they have displayed their love of liberty over and over again.
"Time and again they have demonstrated their desire and ability to defend freedom," he said. "They have proven themselves to be allies by their actions and now it is time to make them allies by treaty."
These seven countries were invited to join NATO last November at an alliance meeting in Prague. The Czech Republic attained full membership just a few years ago and was the first former Soviet bloc nation to host a NATO summit.