NATO foreign ministers have gathered in Lithuania for their first-ever meeting on territory once occupied by the Soviet Union. The meeting will focus on issues of East-West concern.

The Vilnius conference of NATO foreign ministers comes just a year after the Baltic nation joined the trans-Atlantic military alliance with several other countries once controlled by the Soviet bloc.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai says that the meeting has special significance.

"Of course there is a historical element that NATO holds a foreign ministers' meeting here, in one of the seven new countries,? he said.  ?It is a testament to the progress that these countries have made in joining the Euro-Atlantic family.  They now share the same freedoms, the same values and the same security that all NATO members share."

During two days of informal talks, the NATO ministers will discuss issues ranging from the alliance's operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans, to ways NATO can support Middle East peace efforts and improve relations with the European Union.

Russia and Ukraine are attending as guests. Russia and NATO plan to sign an agreement granting NATO troops transit rights through Russia. Ukraine is looking for political support for its efforts to join NATO.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is representing the United States at the talks. She used a news conference in Vilnius to emphasize U.S. ties with Lithuania.

Condoleezza Rice
"The United States and Lithuania of course share common values,? said Ms. Rice.  ?We share a history that was a history of defending freedom, even in the darkest of times."

In response to a reporter's question, Ms. Rice also defended the nomination of John Bolton to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

"The president and I believe that John Bolton is the right person to be the United States ambassador to the United Nations at what is really a quite critical time,? she said.  ?We want a strong voice for a reformed U.N. and for American leadership in it."

A Senate committee has delayed a vote on the Bolton nomination after a key Republican Senator expressed concern over reports Mr. Bolton has in the past been abusive of subordinates.