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NATO invites Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic to join

July 8, 1997
Web posted at: 10:47 a.m. EDT (1447 GMT)
photo of NATO leaders

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- NATO leaders ended a fractious debate Tuesday by agreeing to invite Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join the alliance.

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana extended the official invitation following a three-hour meeting where NATO chiefs debated how far and how fast to expand.

Solana earlier called the agreement "a defining moment."

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

The news came on the first day of a two-day NATO summit in Madrid. The question of membership for Romania and Slovenia was backed by the majority of the NATO members. But U.S. President Bill Clinton had indicated that he would block any attempt to include the two.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also said expansion should be limited.

Clinton/Solana photo

Foreign ministers meet

NATO foreign ministers, who split away from the leaders to sort out a final statement, reached a compromise on assurances of an "open door" to be given to the states which did not join the first wave of enlargement, delegates said.

France and other European allies sought a specific pledge that Romania and Slovenia will be invited to join NATO in 1999.

But the United States preferred language that made clear Romania and Slovenia are at the head of the line, but that stopped short of any iron-clad guarantee they would be invited to join NATO in two years.

The United States believes committing to two countries now might take the steam out of economic and military reforms in other countries seeking NATO membership.

Poland eager to join alliance

While Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have been invited to join NATO, the three countries must enter into specific negotiations about military and other membership requirements.

Plans call for them to be formally admitted when NATO holds its 50th anniversary summit in 1999.

Poland is eager to join the alliance, and its government has been closely watching the summit for news of its possible 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."

White House Correspondent John King, State Department Correspondent Steve Hurst, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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