Madrid, 8 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- NATO leaders meeting in Madrid now seem prepared to praise Romania, Slovenia and the three Baltic countries today in language that will hold out promise they will be accepted as future members of the alliance.
A British official, speaking privately, told RFE/RL that the draft of a communique expected to be issued later today will invite Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to begin immediate discussions leading to full membership by 1999.
The official said the communique will also give "honorable mention" to Romania, Slovenia and the Baltic countries -- Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia -- for having made progress towards meeting the criteria for NATO membership. These include positive developments towards democracy and the rule of law as well as stability and cooperation among states.
The communique is expected to say that if these five countries continue to make progress, they will be considered for acceptance in future waves of eastward expansion.
Reuters reports that seven European allies, led by France and Italy, had urged that Romania and Slovenia be included in the first wave of former communist states to join NATO, but the United States and five other allies insisted on restricting the list to three. Russia is especially opposed to NATO membership for the Baltic countries.
Today's discussions by the 16 NATO heads of state and government are being carried on behind closed doors.