Prague, MARCH 20 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher today promised former Warsaw Pact countries of Central and Eastern Europe that NATO does plan to expand to accept some of them -- as full members.
He was speaking in Prague to foreign ministers from 12 Central European countries that are interested in joining the North Atlantic alliance.
Christopher said that any country that now cooperates with NATO in its Partnership for Peace program will be considered for full membership. However, he did n-o-t give a timetable and said NATO will take its next steps in December to decide what interested partners must do to join.
But he did promise that "NATO has made a commitment to take in new members and it must n-o-t and will n-o-t keep new democracies in the waiting room forever." In Christopher's words, "NATO enlargement is on track and it will happen."
And he also confirmed that new allies will be full members of NATO. He said they will receive all the benefits of NATO membership. But, in his words, "they must be ready to assume the full risks, costs and responsibilities as well."
He also called for an expansion of the European Union (EU) to help economic development in former Soviet Bloc countries. He gave assurances that the process of European integration through NATO and the EU "will not build new walls across this continent."
Christopher, who plans to meet Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov in Moscow on Friday, said he will try to convince them that Russia should build a cooperative relationship with NATO. In Christopher's words, "we have an . . . interest in integrating, not isolating, Russia."
Czech Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec, who made a short speech before Christopher spoke, said that Russia was "beginning to look for ways in which it could take a more open attitude towards NATO expansion."