Bratislava, 11 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A NATO official said in Bratislava today that Europe and the United States must strengthen their cooperation on defense issues to prevent Russia from exploiting their differences. NATO Assistant Secretary-General Klaus-Peter Klaiber made the comment during a conference of 10 countries seeking membership in the alliance.
Prime ministers or deputy prime ministers from nine members of NATO's Membership Action Plan (Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and Macedonia) and the prime minister of Croatia are taking part in the conference, entitled "Europe's New Democracies: Leadership and Responsibility."
The EU's common defense initiative has fueled a debate on coordination of future NATO and EU security operations.
Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said at the conference earlier today that NATO's first wave of enlargement has brought security and stability to Central and Eastern Europe.
And former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brezinski said NATO should invite at least three countries into the alliance, including one or more of the Baltic states, when it holds a summit in Prague next year.
A statement distributed to participants by the Russian Embassy in Bratislava said NATO's expansion plans are a "grave mistake."
The statement said that without a democratic Russia, Europe cannot be "whole and free."
The highlight today was a roundtable of officials speaking on the theme: "Our Shared Vision: A Free and United Europe."
Czech President Vaclav Havel is addressing the group tonight.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman opened the conference yesterday by reading a letter from U.S. President George W. Bush. Bush said in the letter that "no part of Europe would be excluded from NATO because of history or geography."
The conference ends tomorrow.
For more on this story, please see NATO: Bush Signals Support For Expansion