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Poles, Hungarians, Czechs Join NATO Fold

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 1999 – The North Atlantic Treaty Organization accepted the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland as its newest members March 12 during accession ceremonies at the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Mo.

The site chosen for the event highlighted President Truman's contribution to the creation of the security alliance following World War II. At the time, Truman likened the alliance to a group of neighbors who express "their community of interests by entering into an association for their mutual protection."

President Clinton welcomed the new allies and said the new 19- member NATO will be stronger and will make America safer. The new members will "help us realize our common vision of a Europe that is for the first time undivided, democratic and at peace," Clinton said in a statement released after the ceremonies.

Speaking in at the historic event in Independence, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are the first new members since the Cold War's end, but not the last.

"NATO enlargement is not an event, it is a process," she said. Over time, NATO will do for Eastern Europe what it has done for the West, she said. "Steadily and systematically, we will continue erasing, without replacing, the line drawn in Europe by Stalin's bloody boot."

The three democracies, Albright said, have emerged from behind the Iron Curtain and have proven their abilities to meet alliance responsibilities and defend alliance interests.

"Their citizens have a tradition of putting their lives on the line for liberty," she said. "Witness Hungary's courageous freedom fighters in 1956; the students who faced down tanks in the streets of Prague 12 years later; and the workers of Gdansk [Poland] whose movement for Solidarity ushered in Europe's new dawn."

NATO will celebrate its 50th anniversary in Washington, D.C., April 23 to 25 during a summit aimed at ensuring the alliance's military forces are ready and equipped for 21st century missions. "We expect the summit to produce an initiative that responds to the grave threat posed by weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery," Albright said.

Clinton said the NATO summit would prepare the alliance to meet future challenges, strengthen partnership with Europe's newly democratic nations and "reaffirm our commitment that NATO's newest members will not be the last."

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