Washington, 4 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - British Defense Minister Michael Portillo says Russia must be convinced that expansion of the NATO alliance will provide a strong foundation for security and democracy in all the newly democratic countries of Europe.
Portillo said in Washington yesterday that the enlargement of the military alliance is not an expansionist drive by NATO against any country.
Instead, he says acceptance by NATO of new members from the former communist countries of central and eastern Europe is a response to the legitimate claims of those nations for inclusion in Western institutions. He says NATO has a moral obligation to respond to those claims.
NATO is expected to ask the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to join this summer. Russia opposes expansion. However, Portillo says Russia is engaged constructively with NATO in creating a new charter that will guide relations between the alliance and Russia.
Portillo is in Washington for talks with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen.