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Mr. Chairman, Member of the Committee, Fellow Ambassadors and Guests: 

            Let me first say what a privilege it is to be here and on behalf of the ten countries now a part of the Vilnius group to give a short overview of why NATO enlargement matters and the relevance of this coalition of aspiring nations. After the overview, I will speak specifically about my country, Bulgaria, and then each Ambassador will do the same.

It is only thirteen years since the fall of the Berlin Wall—a remarkably short period of time for democracy to take hold.   Yet the fabric of democratic values is as strongly interwoven in the consciousness of our peoples as the medieval tapestries that adorn our museum walls. The citizenry of Central and Eastern Europe longed to be free and have made tremendous strides since the fall of Communism in embedding the necessary framework and infrastructures to guarantee the irrevocability of democratic institutions.   And it has not been easy. It has required hard work and tough choices—for all of us. It has meant governments rising and falling due to raising expectations and then falling due to not meeting expectations.  But it has also shown that democracy works.   We can have smooth transitions of government.   We can have free exchange of ideas.   We can have a healthy multi-party system with a strong opposition.

Our beacon for freedom, independence and democracy has always been the United States. You have long been the source of inspiration and vision for all of us in Central and Eastern Europe.   During the years of oppression millions of our citizens came to the shores of the U.S. to seek a better life. Today more than 30 million Americans with roots in Central and Eastern Europe have become a successful part of the great American melting pot.   They have built a better life here, but are working alongside us to help embed these principles in their ancestral homes.   They are a source of inspiration and experience to help us move at an exponential pace as we enter the 21st century.

The integration of our countries into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions is critical to our future. Our hard work in all areas ranging from military reform to economic reforms, from structural changes to legislative and regulatory frameworks will continue because it is the right thing for each of our individual countries.   But recognition that we are moving on the right path, that we are becoming ready, that we add value, that we are like you and would be welcome in the Alliance of freedom and security, the most successful security Alliance in the 20th century, reaffirms to our people, both young and old that we walk down the path of irrevocability. That democracy, freedom and independence and the values and responsibilities they represent are the only ones our children and grandchildren will ever know.

We are a part of Europe representing more than 60 million people. We believe as your President stated in Warsaw that we should all be striving to see how much we can do, not how little.   From the Baltic to the Black Sea we are here because we are preparing to take our place as part of a Europe whole and free.   This is true for more than enlargement.   We share your values, your ideals, and we are taking our responsibilities seriously to build a better world based on these values.

At the Washington NATO Summit in 1999, the 50th anniversary of the Alliance, a communiqu was issued which named nine countries aspiring to NATO membership and set out a process known as MAP—the Membership Action Plan.   The map created a set of criteria both political and military.   It gave us a roadmap and a framework to demonstrate our commitment in concrete terms. The last round of enlargement we believe was very successful and was the predicate for what we hope will be a very robust enlargement in Prague, but it also left many process questions which the map has helped to clarify.

In May, 2000 the foreign ministers of these countries met in Vilnius Lithuania for the first time to demonstrate their solidarity and commitment to the creation of a Europe whole and free in an alliance with Europe, the United States and Canada as the foundation for stability and security in the 21st century.   And so was born the Vilnius group. We all understood that by working together, by evidencing through concrete deeds our actions as allies, we would help build the foundation for a stronger, safer world. We know that the whole was much greater than the sum of the parts.

At first there was skepticism, particularly in Europe.   But our governments persisted. Our defense ministers met in Sofia in October, 2000; our foreign ministers again in Brussels in December, 2000 and in Bled Slovenia in April, 2001; our prime ministers in Bratislava in May, 2001 where they heard a visionary speech from President Havel; our foreign ministers in Tallinn in July, 2001; our presidents in Sofia in October, 2001, the first gathering of heads of state post 9/11; our foreign ministers in Skopje, Macendonia in March, 2002; and then our prime ministers met again in Bucharest at the end of March, 2002, they heard from President Kwasniewski of Poland, Prime Minster Ecevit of Turkey, Prime Minister Zeman of the Czech Republic and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; all of whom spoke about the importance of enlargement.

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly meets in Sofia (my capitol) at the end of this month. I would encourage all of you to come to Bulgaria and meet with other Parliamentarians from not only the Vilnius countries, but throughout Europe. I would also encourage all of you to come to Riga on July 5-6 where the V-10 prime ministers and Baltic presidents will be celebrating freedom and democracy in the final V-10 summit before Prague in November.

The level of bi-lateral, regional and multi-lateral cooperation has exponentially increased—be it the three Baltic countries in defense areas including procurement, Slovakia with its Visograd partners, Slovenia as a model of economic success, or the relationships among Southern European countries, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Turkey, Albania and Macedonia.   The inclusion of Croatia in the V-10 and the map has helped them speed the process of necessary reforms.

We have all contributed to NATO led missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.   We have all volunteered to provide troops, airspace, airfields and whatever support we could to the U.S. in the war against terrorism. We have already acted like NATO allies because we feel we can and do make an important contribution to the community of values to which we belong.

We add value to the Alliance both militarily and politically.   Be it air surveillance in the Baltics or mountain troops of Romania, the expertise in demining in Slovenia, or the airfields in Southeastern Europe, we add to the strength and vitality of NATO. Our invitation to join NATO will solidify a core alliance of those whose trust and credibility can be counted on. We will not just be new allies, we will be part of a stronger, more effective, new Alliance capable of responding to the entire range of modern threats.

With that overview in mind let me turn to Bulgaria and outline our progress in a variety of areas.

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