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Cohen Says NATO Door Will Remain Open

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, June 17, 1997 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen reassured Slovenia and Romania the United States is serious about keeping the door to NATO membership open.

Cohen met with defense ministers from the two Eastern European nations here June 13, the day after President Clinton announced U.S. support of NATO membership invitations to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

"Obviously, they were disappointed," Cohen said after meeting with the ministers. "They would like me to convey to the people of Slovenia and Romania the seriousness of which I have stated the door is open. They want that reassurance; they would like the people of their countries to have that reassurance from me."

NATO is slated to announce which countries will be invited to become member candidates based upon the allies' consensus at a Madrid summit July 8 and 9.

Although U.S. officials say Slovenia and Romania need more time preparing for the obligations of membership, the two nations remain leading candidates among the 16 allies. NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said the U.S. position will bear heavy weight in the allies' final decision.

Cohen said he intends to travel to Slovenia and Romania to encourage and reassure people there to the extent his extensive travel schedule will allow. He said he will tell them they have made significant progress and the United States hopes it will continue.

"The door is open, and we hope that in the foreseeable future they can be successful candidates," he said.

Cohen said he also expects to travel to other countries seeking admittance to work with their defense ministers and encourage them to continue participating in the enhanced Partnership for Peace program. He advised all nations seeking membership, particulary those not chosen in the initial round, "to continue on the path they are on -- there should be no slippage or turn to another direction," he said. "All that we see today is very positive, and that must continue."

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