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NATO Faces Problems in Bulgaria

Brussels, May 6 (RFE/RL) - Nato is facing two decisive challenges: preparing for enlargement, and re-structuring ties with the European Union (EU), or more precisely, the EU's developing military structure, the Western European Union (WEU).

To prepare for enlargement, Nato Secretary General Javier Solana has recently completed an ambitious tour of Eastern Europe. His consistant message was that a decision on which countries can join the Alliance as new members is nearing. Last month, Solana made clear he expects the names of countries with the best chance of early admission to be announced by the end of this year.

But Nato officials tell RFE/RL in Brussels that last week's visit to Bulgaria was a disappointment. Solana faced the range of enthusiasm for Nato membership displayed by President Zhelyu Zhelev and Bulgaria's post-communist government, dominated by the Bulgarian Socialist Party.

In no other capital he visited, did Solana encounter an anti-Nato demonstration, as he did in Sofia.

And, Socialist Prime Minister Zhan Videnov told Solana that the most important decisions in Bulgaria's discussion about Nato "have yet to be taken."

At a routine meeting in Brussels today, Bulgaria was expected to announce its appreciation for Nato's Partnership for Peace Program. But our correspondent reports that a definitive statement on Sofia embracing the Alliance is unlikely.

A Bulgaria delegation led by Ghiorghi Dimitrov, a Foreign Ministry official, is presenting documents leading to a formal discussion of requirements for Nato membership. Romania and Poland are among other countries which have presented such individual documents.

Our correspondent reports that speculation across Europe is not unlike that he hears at Nato headquarters, namely, that Bulgaria is not viewed as a country to be admitted to the Alliance in the first "wave." He says it chances for EU membership are viewed similarly.

Solana today also met WEU Secretary General Jose Cutileiro. They signed a security pact, setting out procedures for protecting and safeguarding classified information and material provided by either organization.

The Nato-WEU relationship is not clear, but this new pact is expected to strengthen cooperation, especially in operational matters. In addition, WEU members and associated countries gather in Birmingham, England tomorrow to consider ways to expand the role of the EU's military agency, and its ties with Nato. Important to this is a pending U.S. decision on making Nato assests available to the EU for European military operations.