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Central Europe: NATO Enlargement Talks Proceed Smoothly

By William Echikson

Brussels, 29 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - NATO should wrap up this week negotiations with Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic on the costs of their entry into the alliance.

NATO sources have told RFE/RL in Brussels that the three countries had received firm estimates of their future contributions. The representatives of the three Central European countries were said to have accepted the figures.

Both sides said preliminary consultations would be cleared earlier than expected, for Foreign Ministers to sign a formal "protocol of accession" December 16 in Brussels.

"Everything looks on track," says Jaromir Novotny, the Czech Republic's acting Deputy Defense Minister. He spoke to RFE/RL while attending a conference in Brussels.

Prague is being asked to contribute .89% (about $15 million annually) of the total NATO budget. Poland would contribute about three times more (about $40 million) with Hungary's contribution set at about $11 million.

"I plan to recommend to my government that we accept the figure," Novotny said.

"These numbers aren't negotiable," added a NATO source. "We expect them to be accepted." He said that a scheduled final round of accession talks in November with Czechs and Poles would probably not be necessary. "We can just exchange letters in writing," he said.

The final issue in the enlargement process concerns Hungary's referendum on NATO membership scheduled November 16. But the expectation here is that most Hungarians will vote to join.

In the Czech Republic, Novotny said popular support for the move was now over 50 percent and growing fast.

In Poland, the probable appointment of Janusz Onyszkiewicz as Defense Minister and Bronislaw Geremek as Foreign Minister in the new government assures the continuity of pro-NATO policies.

"They are known figures," says one NATO source. "I don't see any change towards NATO membership," said Krzysztof Wegrzyn, the Polish Under-Secretary of State for Defense. Opinion polls show that an overwhelming majority of Poles favor entering NATO.

The Central Europeans pledged to make major efforts to upgrade their defense. Poland's Wegrzyn says that "we will send strong signals that we are ready to share the burden." Czech Republic's Novotny said "We don't expect a free ride."