Madrid, 7 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Top officials from the 16 NATO countries meet tonight in Madrid to narrow down the options for the final decisions on which former Communist countries will be invited tomorrow to become new alliance members. A NATO official said there will be genuine debate among the heads of state and government, and that the Madrid summit will not be a rubber stamp of decisions already made.
The official, who spoke to reporters on condition that he not be named, stressed that a final decision on the new members in eastward expansion will not be made until tomorrow by the leaders of the 16 alliance countries.
The official stressed, however, that there will not be any last-minute surprises tomorrow. The number of new members will not be fewer than three, nor larger than five. The United States has provoked controversy by backing acceptance of only three -- Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. France and some other allies want Romania and Slovenia to be included as well.
The official repeated NATO assurances that the first wave of expansion will not be the last. He said that NATO expansion is not a one-time operation which will begin and end in Madrid. He said it is is important to assure that the first wave proceeds smoothly so that there can be a second wave of acceptance of new members in a few years.
In a special commentary in today's "International Herald Tribune," NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said that unlike previous summits, the NATO Madrid summit will bring together individual elements of NATO's political and military reform to form a coherent whole. Solana added the alliance will do so in the context of a vigorous program of wide-ranging cooperation with the nations of the Euro-Atlantic region.
He wrote that a glance at the summit's agenda confirms that the essential elements of NATO's strategic vision are coming together. Among those elements, he cites NATO's goal to admit new members by 1999, NATO's 50th anniversary. He also reaffirmed NATO's commitment to a robust, open-door policy concerning further accessions.
Solana added that the alliance will start a substantially enhanced Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, deepening and intensifying cooperation with all partner countries. And he said NATO would intensify political consultations with partners through the recently created Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.
In addition, Solana reconfirmed NATO's strong commitment to developing a genuine security partnership with Russia and he said a charter would be signed with Ukraine on a distinct and effective partnership.
Solana concludes that the implications of these initiatives go far beyond the Atlantic Alliance itself. In Solana's view, the Madrid agenda demonstrates that allies and partners, freed from the political and military restraints of the Cold War, no longer define their security interests in narrow terms.