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NATO: Military Chiefs Meet And Invite Partnership Participants

Brussels, 22 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - NATO's military chiefs have opened two days of meetings at Alliance headquarters. Today, the NATO military committee meets -- for the first time this year -- at the level of Chiefs of Staff. Tomorrow, there is a joint session with representatives of states in NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program.

Today's meeting is expected to focus on assessing progress in streamlining NATO's command structure. One aim is to reduce the number of commands by more than half -- to a new level of 22. That figure would have to rise again once new member states are admitted, perhaps by one command per new Alliance member.

The immediate problem, however, is disputes among current members holding up the reduction in existing commands and jeopardizing the timetable by which this work is to be completed in July.

NATO officials tell RFE/RL that the high-profile dispute between France and the United States over the southern command is not likely to take up much time at today's session. France advocates the post be held by a European commander. Military chiefs are said to be eager to leave this political dispute to politicians.

Problems of accomodating NATO's military structure for an enlarged membership will be discussed, particularly with reference to Russia's repeated demands for various assurances on the Alliance's eastward expansion. Officials tell our correspondent that they are willing to be reasonably flexible over setting limits on the stationing or troops, or even particular weapons systems.

But, NATO military commanders say they would draw the line on the modernizing of infrastructure, such as bases and command-and-communications facilities. New member countries, they say, must be able to know that their military capabilities can be efficiently reinforced, if the need should ever arise.