Prague, 26 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - A prominent American politician today said that any decision to expand NATO in the East will face a tough test in the U.S. Congress.
Joseph Biden, ranking Democratic member of the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters in Prague that while he assumes the NATO summit in July will invite the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia to start entry negotiations, any agreement on the issue will have to win the Senate approval.
Biden said Senators will determine whether the prospective members maintain democratic institutions, respect civil and minority rights and keep their military forces under civilian control before they vote their consent.
Biden warned also that the candidates will have to show ability to absorb the costs of joining the alliance and operate on equal terms with the current members. He said that someone wants a first class ride, he must pay a first class ticket. But he also said that there will be no second class membership.
Biden admitted there are still Senators and Congressmen, who are hesitant to support expansion. But he noted that the decision to do so has already been taken by the alliance.
Biden said that NATO will remain open to new members after the first four countries are invited to join. But he also said that it is important not to set a date for additional expansion.
Biden said also that NATO has prepared a draft charter on relations with Russia, but stopped short of saying when the charter may be approved by both sides.
The establishment of regular relations between Russia and the Western defence alliance has been widely regarded as crucial for maintaining security in Europe. Russia has long opposed any plans for NATO expansion in the East.
Concerning international broadcasting, Biden says Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are needed now more than ever to provide objective information to the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Biden told RFE/RL staff at the radios' Prague headquarters today that they were the "single most significant weapon" the U.S. government has to support freedom in the region.
Biden said the broadcasts by U.S.-funded RFE/RL will be needed into the next century. He said Radio Free Asia, the new U.S.-funded broadcast service, will need to bring the "same sense of objectivity" to Asia that RFE/RL has brought to its broadcast area.
He spoke prior to a news conference that was expected to focus on NATO expansion into the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Before arriving in Prague, Biden had talks in Poland and Russia with senior officials centering on security issues.
Biden is the senior Democratic Party member on the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee. He is also the ranking member on the Senate's subcommittee on European Affairs.