Washington, 22 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton today called for NATO to add some former communist nations as members by the end of 1999, a target that coincides with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Western alliance.
Clinton said the first group of countries to be invited should be what he called "full-fledged members of NATO."
Clinton did not identify any countries by name, but it is widely believed that the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary would be among the first new members.
Clinton says the 16-member alliance will invite the first group of potential new members early next year.
Clinton also promised that NATO will never close its doors to potential members even after it accepts the first new alliance partners.
The president made the remarks in a re-election campaign speech in the midwestern city of Detroit. He did not mention any specific nations as the most likely first new members.
The U.S. president added that no nation outside of NATO will have veto power over another nation's NATO membership.
He also said that while the alliance expands to include some of its former Warsaw Pact adversaries, it should also continue to work closely with Russia to build security and cooperation.
Clinton also warned the American people that NATO expansion will not be cheap, and that all alliance members assume the responsibility of defending each other. An attack on one member, he said, is an attack on all members.