President Bush has told a crowd of thousands in Bucharest that NATO membership is a guarantee that no one can take away Romania's freedom.

During a speech in historic Revolution Square, Mr. Bush said this week's invitation to join the western alliance is a vote of confidence for continued political, economic and military reform in the former Soviet satellite. He also affirmed the friendship between the United States and Romania.

The American president praised Romanians for the courage that ended what he called "two generations of tyranny" and thanked them for choosing the path of tolerance, democracy and peaceful relations with neighboring nations. President Bush said "the path of freedom is not easy, but it is the only path worth taking."

In a remark apparently aimed at Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush said Romania has seen for itself that dictators cannot be appeased or ignored, but must always be confronted.

In his introductory remarks, Romanian President Ion Iliescu said the invitation to join NATO is a historic moment that marks a break from the country's past and signals a new beginning. He also thanked President Bush for making the dream and ideal of partnership with America come true.

The U.S. delegation arrived in Bucharest on the last stop of an Eastern European tour to celebrate the expansion of NATO. Earlier Saturday, President Bush told a cheering crowd in Lithuania that the new NATO members would refresh the alliance with a spirit of freedom that survived in the face of Soviet tyranny.

On Thursday, the former Soviet-bloc nations of Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Slovakia were invited to join NATO in 2004.