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Romania Wants To Join NATO Together With Hungary

Munich, April 11 (RFE/RL) - Romania's defense minister, Gheorghe Tinca, has warned NATO that admitting Hungary to the alliance without Romania could lead to tension and even an arms race.

In an interview with a leading Hungarian newspaper, "Magyar Hirlap", Tinca says both countries should be admitted at the same time. He suggested that admitting Hungary could provoke tension which "might lead to an arms race" in the region.

Tinca's comments were published as German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe was in Budapest for three days of talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn and other officials to discuss Hungary's hopes for joining the alliance.

Ruehe, who is considered a strong supporter of the eastward expansion of NATO, goes on to Bucharest today for similar talks with the Romanian government.

Officials in Budapest played down Tinca's comments and said they should be considered within the traditional rivalry between Hungary and Romania.

The Hungarian foreign ministry said Hungary's official position was that Romania should also be admitted to NATO but the timing was a matter for NATO to decide.

Many Western commentators believe Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are likely to be admitted first.

Romania gave NATO on April 2 the documents necessary for opening discussions on membership. A high-ranking NATO delegation was in Bucharest at the same time to discuss possible co-operation between the Romanian army and NATO structures.

Romania was the first country to sign up for NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program of military co-operation in January 1994.

NATO has said it will probably make a decision in December on a timetable for including Central and East European countries in NATO. The German defense minister said in February he expected negotiations with some applicants to begin next year.