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Powell Encourages Congress to Ratify Entries of Seven Countries into NATO

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2003 – Secretary of State Colin Powell asked Congress today to approve protocols that would welcome seven new members into NATO, which would be the alliance's largest expansion in its 54-year history.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Powell strongly encouraged the committee to ratify NATO entry for Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

"It's the central organizing force in a great web of relationships that holds North America and Europe together," Powell told the senators. "It represents a community of common values and shared commitment to democracy, free markets and the rule of law."

He pointed out that on Sept. 12, 2001, the day after terrorists attacked the nation, the alliance told the world that it regarded attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as attacks on all NATO members. This, he said, shows that NATO has the will to combat terrorism and to address the new threats the world faces.

"But the alliance must also have the means," Powell said. "So it must transform, militarily and politically, to secure our collective defense."

Having seven new members "will revitalize NATO by expanding its geographic reach, enhance its military capabilities," he noted.

"We must not forget that the seven invitees also bring tangible security assets to the alliance," the retired Army general said. "Enlargement will bring more than 200,000 additional troops into the alliance and extend NATO's reach from the Baltic to the Black Sea, both politically and geographically.

"And the new members will make the alliance stronger, and they will bring fresh ideas and energy to it," Powell emphasized. "I'm pleased to report that all seven invitees are already de facto allies in the war on terror. All of them have contributed to stabilization efforts in Afghanistan through Operation Enduring Freedom and the International Security Assistance Force."

For more than a half a century, NATO has been indispensable to security on both sides of the Atlantic, the secretary noted, "meeting the security challenges in a world of diverse threats, multiple challenges and unprecedented opportunities."

Powell called the West's triumph in the Cold War and defeat of Soviet communism "a victory for freedom and democracy." But "the troubles and tragedies of the past decade" have ushered in new threats, from ethnic cleansing in the Balkans to terrorist attacks on Sept. 11." To deal with them, he continued, the United States will continue to rely on NATO in the future.

The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the committee "the door to NATO will remain open. Prague was not the end of the enlargement process, just one step on the way. We welcome the applications of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia and other future applicants as well."

During the question- and-answer session, Powell was asked about comments by Marine Gen. James Jones, chief of U.S. European Command, about potential bases and training areas in Eastern Europe. He responded that "it's very sensible as the alliance has enlarged itself, moving to the east, to take a look at a base structure that was created in the '50s."

He said during his term as Joint Chiefs chairman, "We reduced the size of our forces in Europe from 310,000 down to roughly 100,000 to 150,000. A lot of bases went away." But the base structure remained as "the armed forces of the United States along the Iron Curtain ready to fight the Soviet Union."

"Most of those nations we were ready to fight are now a part of NATO," Powell noted. "So it's sensible to take a look at the base structure not with the intent of how do we get closer to the Russian federation. That's not the point at all.

"Anybody who thinks we're somehow creeping back up to a new Cold War line, that's not it at all," he said. "It's just sensible to see whether there are other places where we should have facilities, which is a better term than 'bases.' We need facilities that will allow us to move more quickly to other parts of the world.

Quoting Jones, Powell said, "We're looking not for re-creation of Fort Hood, Texas, in Bulgaria or Romania. But perhaps a forward facility where you can use it when you need it for exercise or transit purposes."

In response to another question, Powell pointed out that President Bush, Prime Minister Blair and other members of the coalition said the United Nations has a vital role to play in Iraq.

"We're hard at work now trying to structure what that role should be and how best to get U.N. endorsement of the role we think is appropriate," the secretary said. "We have some ideas of what we think the U.N. should do with respect to the lifting of sanctions against Iraq, the endorsement of an interim authority and an endorsement of our presence.

"There is a major role for the U.N. to play, and they're playing a role already on humanitarian grounds," Powell noted. "The World Food Program and other U.N. agencies are working with the coalition now."

But he said it's important for the U.N. to go beyond the humanitarian role and get into an endorsement role with the participation of a representative of the secretary general.

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