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NATO invites Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic to join

group of NATO leaders

Alliance makes no promises to Romania, Slovenia

July 8, 1997
Web posted at: 2:25 p.m. EDT (1825 GMT)

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- It's official: NATO Tuesday formally invited the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland -- all former Warsaw Pact countries -- to join the alliance at the end of this century. It would be the biggest single expansion of the Western alliance in its 48-year history.

In a clear victory for U.S. President Bill Clinton's diplomatic efforts, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said "NATO remains open to new members" but limited its first-round expansion to the three countries.

Clinton called it a "very great day" for the cause of freedom. "We bridged the chasm in history and began the journey to a new Europe and a new century," he told Americans at the U.S. Embassy.

The invitation was a setback for France's effort to immediately include Romania and Slovenia -- two other remnants of the old Soviet bloc.

The final communique singled out the two countries for making progress toward admission, but did not set a firm date for an invitation.

"We recognize with great interest ... partial developments toward democracy and the rule of law in a number of southeastern European countries, especially Romania and Slovenia," Solana said, citing a recognized need to build greater stability and security in southeast Europe.

Clinton team

Favorable mention for Baltic states

Solana also left open the possibility that former Soviet states in the Baltic region might be candidates for admission, saying that aspiring members there had made progress "toward greater stability and cooperation." icon( 310 K / 28 sec. AIFF or WAV audio )

The secretary-general emphasized that "no European democracy" which had fulfilled NATO's requirements for membership would be excluded from consideration.

The official declaration gave favorable mention to the Baltic states without specifically naming the former Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Russia has warned that it would consider NATO membership by the Baltics as a threat to its own security.

Clinton, who pushed for the three-nation limit at the current summit, said of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic: "These are the countries who have proved their readiness to join us at this table."

The three nations are expected to become NATO members at the alliance's 50th anniversary summit in April 1999.

Key dispute over future commitment

Each invited country must first enter into specific negotiations about military and other membership requirements, and the member nations must each individually approve adding the new countries to the alliance.

Clinton had alerted NATO allies in June that the United States would insist that the initial expansion include only Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

With the U.S. position firm, the key dispute at the summit was whether the allies should commit themselves now to including Slovenia and Romania in the next round of expansion.

France and other European allies sought a specific pledge that the two countries would be invited to join NATO in 1999.

The United States argued that such a commitment would automatically close off the next enlargement group and might take the steam out of economic and military reforms in other countries seeking membership.

Decision disappoints Slovenia leader

After Solana's announcement, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnosvek said he was disappointed that his country was not among those invited in this round. icon( 298 K / 28 sec. AIFF or WAV audio )

"Already a month ago, Slovenia was told it won't be in the first group. That was accepted in Slovenia ... but it has not shaken our European-Atlantic aspirations," he said. He added, "Slovenia has not been given any good explanation" why it is not being invited now.

NATO was established to confront the Soviet Union along Europe's East-West divide. Now members of the disbanded Soviet-led Warsaw bloc are in a Western embrace. Although Russia has signed a security pact with NATO, it still opposes alliance expansion into formerly communist Eastern Europe.

Poland happy to be included

Poland, eager to join the alliance, watched the summit closely for news of the invitation.

"The day when Poland is invited to negotiations on NATO membership has a chance of going down in history as the end of the Yalta order in Europe," PAP news agency quoted Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz as saying.

Opening the delicate discussions, Solana called Tuesday's meeting "a defining moment for NATO."

"Madrid will be remembered as the time when North America and Europe came together to shape the course of a new century," Solana said in opening the summit. "United by common purpose and shared values, the new alliance stands ready to shape a brighter, more secure future."

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