Vienna, 20 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Italian newspapers are reporting that Italy, Hungary and Slovenia are holding negotiations to form a joint military alliance.
RFE/RL's correspondent in Vienna reports Italy's Secretary of State Piero Fassino recently met there with his counterparts from Slovenia and Hungary. Local press quotes Fassino as saying the tri-lateral military cooperation will help in the battle against trans-national crime and also improve the chances of Slovenia and Hungary being admitted to NATO.
Analysts suggest the move will put pressure on NATO to grant membership to Slovenia. Our correspondent says that for Italy, Slovenia is a key member of any military alliance. Slovenia would function as a land link to Hungary, which is important because Austrian sentiment toward NATO leaves Rome dependent on its other neighbors for direct access to Eastern European markets.
Italy's President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro has stressed the importance of East-West connections, especially among Italy and Hungary and Slovenia. Scalfaro has in the past suggested connecting Italian, Slovenian and Hungarian motorways to bypass Austria.
Austria's daily "Die Presse" newspaper reports a final decision about a "tri-lateral brigade" has not yet been made, but talks have already taken place at the technical level. Our correspondent says additional meetings with the three countries' defence ministers are expected to take place before the middle of March, and a heads-of-state meeting is scheduled for May in Budapest.
NATO is expected to decide at a July summit in Madrid which countries will be invited to negotiations for membership.