Washington, 2 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Slovak Foreign Minister Pavol Hamzik says the Slovak Republic is "as much ready to join NATO as our neighbors and that it is the intention of Slovakia to be part of a stable Europe."
In an interview Tuesday with RFE/RL, Hamzik said that during his meeting today with Defense Secretary William Perry he will emphasize Slovakia's important historical ties to the region and explain how the country's membership is critical in stabilizing the security of Europe.
When asked whether the recent criticism over Slovakia's human rights record might present an obstacle to his country's admission to NATO, Hamzik said that he believed the criticism was largely politically motivated by opposition forces within Slovakia.
"We have a democracy that needs further development and deepening," he admitted. "Not all the mechanisms yet exist in Slovakia ... But we do not see any big differences in this matter between the Slovak Republic and the other countries of Central Europe."
Many government and non-government organizations in Slovakia are currently monitoring the human rights situation and that the government is working hard to make improvements that they "have not yet had time to do" in their young statehood, he said.
Hamzik said he will warn Perry that the exclusion of certain European countries from NATO could result in a "new division of the continent" and added, "this is something we all should avoid."
Hamzik said that as the new foreign minister of Slovakia he hopes to deepen economic and political ties between the United States and Slovakia, adding that his country considers the United States to be "one of the most important foreign partners" of Slovakia.
Although relations between the two countries are on a "good level," Hamzik said he saw "room for improvement" especially in economic and cultural fields.
He added that he hopes to increase American foreign investment in Slovakia and encourage business leaders to visit the country.
Earlier on Tuesday, at a informal gathering of scholars and congressional aides sponsored by the Center for Security and International Studies (CSIS), Hamzik said that none of Slovakia's immediate neighbors had any objections to the country's bid to join NATO.
When pressed about the stance of Ukraine and Russia, Hamzik said that Ukraine did have some concerns, especially regarding nuclear weapons, but is "not against our membership in NATO."
In regards to Russia, Hamzik only said, "We have told the Russians very clearly what we want and where we stand." He added that regardless of the outcome of the country's attempt to join NATO, Slovakia has "every intention of improving and strengthening our economic ties with Russia."
Hamzik also said that if Slovakia is not admitted into NATO that it would be a "great disappointment."
"We, in no way, feel we are lagging behind," he said. "We are fully committed to becoming a member of NATO."