Prague, 14 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said today that NATO's decision to admit the Czech Republic will help bring it "fully, finally and forever" into the European community of nations. But Albright also repeated that Prague would have to make what she called a "first-class commitment" to the alliance, including continuing the peacekeeping commitment in Bosnia-Herzegovina, completing efforts to modernize and streamline its military to meet NATO standards, and following through on economic reform.
Albright spoke to an audience that included Czech President Vaclav Havel, members of the Czech Parliament, and other public and cultural representatives. Our correspondent reports that the speech was dominated by NATO's decision to admit the Czech Republic -- along with Hungary and Poland -- into the Alliance.
Albright said the decision was proof of "unjustice undone" and of promises kept in the way of a unified Europe. However, she noted that NATO's decision was more than just cause for celebration. She said it also posed new challenges and urged the Czech Republic to meet its new-found responsibilities.
She said chief among those responsiblities was the fight against terrorism and crime and the commitment to keep dangerous weapons away from rogue states even if it means "losing a sale."
Albright also expressed the hope that Slovakia would join the path of true democratic reform and make itself a strong candidate in the second round of NATO enlargement.
The Czech-born U.S. Secretary of State first made her remarks in English and then repeated them in Czech. She concluded by saying the Czech Republic is no longer on the outside looking in, but "on the inside, looking forward." It is from that vantage point that Albright urged the Czech Republic to serve as a role model to other nations still seeking entry into NATO.
At a news conference earlier today, President Havel cited the necessity of increasing public confidence and support for the military, passing new defense legislation, and continuing efforts at making the Czech armed forces compatible with Nato forces.
Havel this morning presented Albright with the highest Czech honor -- the order of the White Lion, first class -- for her special services to the country. Albright called her return to her native country a moment of special emotion and joy. Albright is returning to Washington later today after her tour of Eastern and Central Europe.