US Vice President Dick Cheney voiced his country's support for Albania, Croatia and Macedonia in their bid to join NATO, saying they would "help rejuvenate" the 57-year-old Alliance.
"The Adriatic Charter countries have expressed the desire for joining the transatlantic community and we support that," Cheney said Sunday before meeting the premiers of the three countries in the southern Adriatic town of Dubrovnik.
"We understand the desire to join NATO and the European community. We also believe that it's very important for both NATO and the EU to take in the new members," Cheney said. He spoke before meeting his Croatian host Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and his Albanian and Macedonian counterparts Sali Berisha and Vlado Buckovski.
"You who aspire to join these organisations help rejuvenate (them) and help us re-dedicate ourselves to the basic and fundamental values of freedom and democracy," he stressed.
Cheney also praised the three countries for their cooperation alongside NATO and US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Croatia, Macedonia and Albania signed an "Adriatic Charter" with the United States in May 2003 designed to facilitate their integration into the North Atlantic Alliance. The three countries hope to join by 2008.
The three premiers stressed that NATO membership figured among the top priorities for their countries.
"Membership in NATO is a strategic goal of my nation. Croatia is aware that peace and security can not be achieved in isolation," Sanader said before the meeting.
Berisha echoed Sanader's view, stressing that NATO membership was his country's "top priority."
After the talks with Cheney Sanader labelled his visit as "important support to Croatia, but also Albania and Macedonia, on our path towards the EU and NATO."
Sanader also voiced hope that during a NATO summit, to be held in Riga in November, the three countries would be given a more precise timetable for their membership in the Alliance.
"We voiced our expectations that during the November summit in Riga a clear signal would be sent ... to our countries that in some time, rather soon and better sooner than later, we will become full-fledged NATO members," Sanader told journalists after the meeting.
The three Balkan countries also voiced their readiness to take part in the global fight against terrorism.
On Saturday Cheney met Croatian President Stipe Mesic and Sanader.
Cheney's talks with Mesic focused on Zagreb's bid to join NATO and the fight against terrorism.
Croatia, like other Balkan states, is anxious to demonstrate to NATO and the European Union that it meets their standards.
Cheney was due originally to leave on Monday at the end of a trip which has taken him to Lithuania and Kazakhstan. But his press spokeswoman said Saturday his return to Washington had been moved forward to Sunday. The change did not curtail the talks foreseen here.
Croatia, Albania and Macedonia are members of NATO's Partnership for Peace programme.
The programme was set up after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of communism in central and eastern Europe, to establish military cooperation between the former Soviet bloc states and NATO countries, together with European neutrals.
But public support in Croatia for NATO membership is very low, with only 29 percent in favour, according to a recent opinion poll.