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Albright Congratulates NATO Invitees

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Dec. 19, 1997 – NATO is one step closer to having three new allies committed to mutual defense.

NATO's 16 members and foreign ministers from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland signed accession protocols here Dec. 16. The documents are necessary for the three countries to become the newest members of the North Atlantic security alliance.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright congratulated the three countries, saying the protocols represent another step on their journey to freedom.

"It was not too long ago that we looked upon the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland as history's victims and hoped against hope that some day they might emerge from the shadows of empire with the chance to shape their own destinies," she said. "Today, that past seems distant. The progress of history has outpaced even our fondest aspirations."

By admitting new members committed to mutual defense, Albright said, NATO is "expanding the area of the world where wars just do not happen." NATO opened its doors to the three candidates during a summit in Madrid last summer.

The three nations have worked to meet membership criteria of democratic governments, market economies and civilian-controlled militaries. NATO officials have studied their preparations and examined their capabilities.

By signing the accession protocols, NATO members attest the three nations are able to assume the obligations of membership, Albright said.

The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have proven their democracies are strong, their economies are growing and their military infrastructures are more advanced than many expected, she said. Through the Partnership for Peace program, their armed forces are making good progress in advancing to NATO's standards and procedures, NATO officials said.

"Simply put, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are ready," Albright said. "And NATO is ready to benefit from their membership."

Ratification is the next step on the road to membership. The three will have to continue working to improve military interoperability and ensure adequate defense budgets are set, Albright said.

"Our goal is not just to come together, but ... to shoulder common responsibilities and to take common actions that will strengthen our security," she said.

NATO's door will remain open to more new members, Albright stressed during a press conference following the signing ceremony. It's not a question of if new members will be invited, it's only a question of when, she said.

The next round of talks leading to invitations is set for 1999. NATO will approach the next round as it did the first, Albright said, with "a steady, deliberate process to make sure new invitees are as ready as these first three."

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