The US President George W. Bush arrived in Croatia on Friday afternoon for a two-day official visit during which he will meet President Stjepan Mesić and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and make a public address.
The US president and his wife Laura were welcomed at Zagreb airport by Croatia's Foreign Affairs and European Integration Minister Gordan Jandroković, President Stjepan Mesić's advisors on foreign affairs and national security, Tomislav Jakić and Saša Perković respectively, the state secretary for political affairs at the Foreign Ministry, Bianca Matković, and US Ambassador to Zagreb Robert Bradtke.
President Bush and his delegation, which also includes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, arrived in Zagreb from Bucharest where Croatia received an invitation to join NATO yesterday.
After leaving his plane, the US president and his entourage set off in a motorcade towards Zagreb's Westin hotel, where Bush will be staying during the visit to the Croatian capital.
Zagreb airport and the surrounding area were under tight security measures, as were roads along which the presidential motorcade would be travelling. Taught by their experience of previous visits of foreign statesmen, residents of Zagreb left their cars at home in large numbers so that traffic in the city was much lighter than it usually is on working days. Announcing plans by the US president to visit Croatia several days ago, Bush's advisor on national security, Steven Hadley, who also arrived in Zagreb today, said that Bush was visiting Croatia to congratulate its people on impressive reforms.
Late this afternoon, the US president will meet Croatian President Stjepan Mesić in his office. After the meeting, President Mesić will give a reception for his guest which will also be attended by members of the academic community, politicians, business people, cultural workers and athletes.
On Saturday, the US president is expected to meet Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and other government members at the government headquarters. President Bush will then address the public in St. Mark's Square.
President Mesić said last week that the visit by the US president was an honour and privilege for Croatia because Bush was the president of the world's leading power, and PM Sanader said the visit represented the culmination of bilateral relations.
President Bush is the third US president to visit Croatia. Richard Nixon was the first US president to visit Croatia in 1970. He is remembered for having said, during a toast at a reception organised in his honour by the then president of the Croatian National Assembly, Jakov Blazević, "Yugoslavia will always live! Long live Yugoslavia" but also "Croatia will always live! Long live Croatia", which elicited different interpretations.
The second US president to visit Croatia was Bill Clinton, who only stopped at Zagreb airport for a few hours in 1996.
Around 600 reporters from Croatia and other countries in the region and most European countries, as well as Japan, will be covering the visit, not including US reporters who arrived in Zagreb with Bush.