Washington, DC – On March 29, 2004, the enlargement of NATO was marked by official ceremonies at the White House as the Alliance formally accepted Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia as new members, thereby increasing its size from 19 to 26 countries. In welcoming the new members at the South Lawn of the White House, President George W. Bush thanked all seven countries for their active engagement in assisting the U.S.-led military operations in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. “When NATO was founded, the people of these seven nations were captives to an empire,” he reminded officials and audience present. The President also hinted at a future expansion of NATO, noting that the prime ministers of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia had been invited to the Washington ceremonies.
Following the White House ceremony, a Gala Reception for 1000 guests organized jointly by the Ambassadors of the seven new nations, U.S. Ambassadors to these nations in cooperation with the Central and Eastern European Coalition (CEEC) was held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Master of Ceremonies, Mrs. Regina Narusis of the Lithuanian American community introduced the seven Prime Ministers and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. After the Secretary’s remarks, in which he noted the historic significance of NATO’s newest expansion, Mr. Frank Koszorus, Jr. of the Hungarian American Coalition spoke on behalf of CEEC, emphasizing that the U.S. must remain engaged in Europe and NATO and the importance of ensuring the security of the region by strengthening democracy, including the rule of law and human and minority rights.
Three other Hungarian American Coalition leaders attended the Washington events: Mrs. Edith Lauer, Chair Emerita, Mr. Laszlo Hamos, present Chairman, and Mr. Imre Lendvai-Lintner, Rising Chairman of the Coalition. After the official program at the Corcoran Gallery, Mrs. Lauer and Mr. Hamos took the opportunity to greet both Prime Minister Nastase of Romania, and Mikulas Dzurinda, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, reminding them that the Coalition supported their nation’s NATO membership in the hope that every citizen, regardless of ethnic identity, will benefit equally from membership, as the (Romanian and Slovak) government takes the necessary steps to fulfill NATO’s requirements for a fully democratic society.