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U.S. Says Yes to Three New NATO Members

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, June 13, 1997 – The United States supports inviting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join NATO.

Defense Secretary William Cohen discussed the U.S. stance at a NATO press conference here shortly after President Clinton announced the U.S. policy decision in Washington June 12.

NATO is slated to announce which countries will be invited to become member candidates at a summit in Madrid July 8 and 9. NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said the American policy decision will bear heavy weight among the 16 allies.

NATO allies are currently debating whether to limit new members to three or go up to as many as five. Romania and Slovenia are also leading contenders for membership. White House officials said Romania and Slovenia have made great progress toward membership but need more time to prepare for the obligations of membership.

Cohen said Clinton reached his decision after extensive discussion with advisers, allies, candidate countries and members of Congress.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic "have demonstrated the necessary level of progress on military, political, economic and social reform to be suitable invitees," Cohen said. "We looked at the accession process to ensure that as they become members they take the steps necessary to enable them to make a full contribution to meeting the tasks and obligations of the alliance."

The United States favors a small number of candidates because membership carries heavy obligations for both new and old members, Cohen said. "The prudent course is to defer invitations where the countries are on the right path, but need more time." Limiting initial invitations reduces the problems and cost of assimilating new members into NATO operations, he said.

"A small initial group underscores there really are going to be additional rounds," he said. "We also took into consideration the view that for so momentous a decision, there ought to be a strong consensus in its support. Therefore, it's right to act now only in the cases where there's strong unity of view, leaving others for later action."

U.S. officials say there should be a clear commitment by the alliance at Madrid to conduct further membership rounds relatively early, Cohen said. The administration also seeks the alliance's "unequivocal commitment" to keeping membership open and continuing dialogue focused on membership issues, he said.

The United States explicitly opposes excluding any European democracy from membership solely on the basis of geography, Cohen said. It also seeks a continuous alliance review of other nations' progress toward membership.

NATO should encourage other nations seeking membership to accelerate and enhance their Partnership for Peace activities and intensify dialogue with NATO to ensure they are on the right path, Cohen said. This will improve their chances of joining in the future.

Cohen said he plans to play an active role, working with ministers of countries that want to join NATO. "We intend to work very closely with them, to reassure them this is not a one-shot proposition, that the door is not closed. We are open to their accession when they qualify."

He said NATO expansion and NATO's new partnership with Russia are major steps toward fulfilling U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall's post-World War II vision of a peaceful, undivided and democratic Europe.

"Marshall saw a free and democratic Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals, but communism blurred that vision, and now we're close to seeing the completion of his plan," Cohen said.

NATO was founded in 1949 with 12 members: United States, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and United Kingdom. Greece and Turkey joined in 1952, followed by Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982.

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