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Cohen Says NATO's Door Is Open to All

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

MUNICH, Feb. 8, 1999 – NATO membership is open to qualified countries, despite Russia's continuing opposition to expanding the security alliance, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said here Feb. 7.

"The door remains open. It's not geographically confined," Cohen told reporters traveling with him from Munich to Bonn, Germany. "If countries satisfy the requirements, they will be considered for membership. It's up to NATO countries to decide which countries qualify."

Cohen was in Europe for the two-day 35th Munich Conference on Security Policy here and for meetings with officials in the former West German capital. During a second-day address at the international security meeting, Yevgenij Gusarov, Russian vice minister of foreign affairs, said his country still opposes NATO expansion.

"The process of joining NATO by Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic does not provide convincing evidence that such expansion is beneficial for the security and stability in Europe," he said. "It rather has the opposite effect."

NATO's three member candidates are slated to officially join the alliance at NATO's 50th anniversary summit in Washington in April. During the summit, NATO's 16 member nations will meet the first day, and NATO's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council will meet the second. NATO is inviting heads of state from 42 nations -- NATO members and Partnership for Peace members, including Russia, a senior U.S. defense official said.

Cohen said the Russians' apprehensions over NATO expansion are understandable, but "what we should do and can do is show them this is an institution which is creating great stability and prosperity." As NATO expands, he said, the stability and prosperity enjoyed by the West will extend eastward -- and that will support Russia's security interests.

In the translated text of his speech, Gusarov also said NATO and Russia are working together in many areas since they signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act and established the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council.

Like the rest of Europe, Gusarov said, Russia is vitally interested in creating a stable environment, settling conflicts, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and combating terrorism. He said Russia also seeks ways to deal with the new challenges of the 21st century -- political extremism, nationalism, militant separatism, and others.

During his Feb. 6 conference speech, Cohen said NATO's relationship with Russia is "extraordinarily" important. "We have an obligation to continue to reach out to and support free minds and free markets in Russia," the secretary said in prepared remarks. "That is why every session of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council is so valuable, and why we must neither shirk nor shrink from security consultations and practical cooperation that promotes peace and security across Eurasia."

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