VP meets with Croatian leaders

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DUBROVNIK, Croatia (AP) – Vice President Dick Cheney met with Croatian leaders on Saturday and went sightseeing with his wife in a picturesque city by the Adriatic Sea on the final stop of a three-nation trip overseas.

Standing next to Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, Cheney said the United States is “strongly supportive of Croatia becoming a full member of the trans-Atlantic community, in terms of working with NATO and the E.U.”

Cheney said the Bush administration is “deeply appreciative” of Croatia’s help in Afghanistan, and he said that “all Americans are tremendously impressed with how far Croatia has come” in a short period.

Cheney met with Sanader on the terrace of a seaside restaurant featuring a spectacular view of stone fortifications dating back hundreds of years.

Earlier, the vice president held talks with Croatian President Stipe Mesic, although neither man made any public comments.

In between the meetings, Cheney and his wife, Lynne, toured the old part of the city. Aides said they stopped at a 14th-century Franciscan monastery as well as the Church of St. Blaise, built in 1715. They also saw the Rector’s Palace, which houses the Dubrovnik Museum.

His spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, said reporters were not notified because Cheney “views that as personal time.”

The vice president flew to Croatia for talks today with the heads of Croatia, Albania and Macedonia, the three members of the Adriatic charter that was established two years ago. All three countries are allies in the war on terror and all three want membership in NATO.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell attended the charter signing ceremony in Albania on May 5, 2005. President Bush issued a statement at the time that said the document “affirms the signatories political commitment to the values and principles of the NATO alliance.”

During the Cold War, Macedonia and Croatia were part of Yugoslavia, a nation whose leaders sought to keep its distance from the Soviet Union despite its location. Albania was a communist country.

Cheney flew to the Balkans after a visit of less than 24 hours in Kazakhstan. He held unexpectedly lengthy talks on Friday with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose strategically located country possesses vast oil and gas reserves.

The vice president met privately on Saturday morning with a small group of opposition leaders. McBride described the five as “strong advocates of political reform.” She said the vice president has assured them “that the U.S. and the administration will continue its support of political and economic reform and that continues to be a part of the agenda.”

Reporters, who have been permitted to witness the opening moments of nearly all of Cheney’s meetings on his trip, were denied access to the one with opponents of Nazarbayev’s government.

Cheney’s first stop on the trip was in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he gave a speech accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of backtracking on democratic reforms and using his country’s oil wealth as a tool of blackmail with other nations.

McBride said Cheney decided to cut short his trip and would return home Sunday night instead of Monday.

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