Independence, Missouri, 15 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. has vowed t,hat the three new members of NATO -- the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland -- will be true allies.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made the comment Friday at the accession ceremony in Independence, Missouri. Independence is the hometown of former American President Harry Truman, a principal architect of NATO's founding 50 years ago.
During her address, Albright promised that "never again will your fates be tossed around like poker chips on a bargaining table."
She added: "Whether you are helping to revise the alliance's strategic concept or engaging in NATO's partnership with Russia, the promise of 'nothing about you without you,' is now formalized. You are truly allies; you are truly home."
The ceremony marked the first wave of enlargement since the end of the Cold War, a policy bitterly opposed by Russia. But Albright said NATO enlargement was necessary to "do for Europe's east what NATO has already helped to do for Europe's west."
"Steadily and systematically, we will continue erasing -- without replacing -- the line drawn in Europe by Stalin's bloody boot," she vowed.
She added that when the Iron Curtain of Soviet domination descended across Europe 50 years ago, a "brutal and unnatural division" was imposed. But she said as a result of courageous acts on both sides of the curtain, the links that should have been secure across Europe long ago are finally being soldered together.
The original NATO treaty was signed in Washington on April 4, 1949 and was considered by most observers to be a way to combat the Russian sphere of influence over Eastern Europe.
In fact, while Truman never mentioned the Soviet Union by name in his speech just prior to the signing of the treaty, the threat from the East was clearly implied.
He said: "We are determined to work together to provide better lives for our people without sacrificing our common ideals of justice and human worth. But we cannot succeed if our people are haunted by the constant fear of aggression and burdened by the cost of preparing their nations individually against attack."
Truman's secretary of state, Dean Acheson, was more blunt. In a speech on March 18, 1949, shortly before the treaty was concluded, he said: "By obstructive tactics and the misuse of the veto, the Soviet Union has seriously interfered with the work of the (United Nations) Security Council in maintaining international peace and security."
On Friday, in response to the accession ceremony, the Russian Defense Ministry reiterated Moscow's opposition to NATO's expansion, saying it was a dangerous and historic mistake that could have consequences for European security.
The ministry said, however, that it would continue participation in a 1997 cooperation pact between Russia and NATO.
But Albright stressed the fact that NATO's challenges for the new millennium not only include welcoming new members, but on strengthening its "valuable partnerships" with Russia, Ukraine and Europe's other democracies.
"NATO's purpose is not to build new wall, but rather to tear old walls down," she said.