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NATO Chief Welcomes New Members

Brussels, 2 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer today marked the formal addition of seven member states into the defense alliance, calling it "the clearest demonstration that in Europe, geography no longer equals destiny."

De Hoop Scheffer made the remarks in Brussels, after the foreign ministers from Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Latvia, and Estonia joined their colleagues from 19 NATO member states in the raising of the flags and playing of the national anthems of the new member states.

De Hoop Scheffer said the NATO expansion -- along with the enlargement of the European Union next month -- perfectly illustrates "the attraction, the strength, and the enduring value of the trans-Atlantic link."

The seven countries officially became NATO members on 28 March when they deposited their accession treaties in Washington.

Later today at NATO headquarters, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to attend a Russia-NATO Council meeting for talks on NATO's expansion and recent unrest in Kosovo.