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Bush Backs NATO Enlargement - 2002-11-20

President Bush says with the enlargement of NATO, the soul of Europe will grow stronger. He spoke as alliance leaders gathered in the Czech Republic for their first summit in a former Soviet bloc country.

The president went before a group of European students who came of age following the Cold War. He spoke of the struggles of their parent's generation, and the new threats of today.

"In Central and Eastern Europe, the courage and moral vision of prisoners and exiles and priests and playwrights caused tyrants to fall," Mr. Bush said. "This spirit now sustains these nations through difficult reforms. And this spirit is needed in the councils of a new Europe."

Seven more former Soviet-bloc nations are expected to get NATO invitations during the Prague summit, joining Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. President Bush said the United States strongly supports NATO enlargement - now and in the future.

"Members recently added to NATO and those invited to join bring greater clarity to purposes of our alliance, because they understand the lessons of the last century. Those with fresh memories of tyranny know the value of freedom. Those who have lived through a struggle of good against evil are never neutral between them," the president said.

He spoke of the need for moral clarity at a time when NATO faces new dangers from terrorists and rogue states with weapons of mass destruction. The president said the need for a collective defense has never been more urgent.

"The Soviet Union is gone, but freedom still has enemies," he said. "We are threatened by terrorism, bred within failed states. It is present within our own cities."

Mr. Bush said NATO forces must evolve to meet these changing threats with new capabilities. He made specific mention of plans to create a NATO rapid response force that could be deployed outside Europe as part of the war on terrorism.

"Free nations must accept our shared obligations to keep the peace. The world needs the nations of this continent to be active in the defense of freedom, not inward-looking or isolated by indifference," President Bush said.

The president stressed that Russia has nothing to fear from the evolution of NATO and its new members. He noted that after the summit, he will go to St. Petersburg for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Bush said Russia no longer needs a buffer zone of protection it needs peaceful and prosperous neighbors.