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NATO: Partnership Body Meets For First Time

Sintra, Portugal; 30 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Foreign ministers of NATO and 27 partnership countries met in the Portuguese town of Sintra today for the inaugural meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.

The body merges the alliance's military cooperation program and a forum for political dialogue with non-member countries. It aims to enhance political and military cooperation across Europe.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the opening session that the council would be equipped to boost cooperation on a range of issues including arms control and proliferation, terrorism, disaster relief, and a "full range of peace support operations."

AP reports the 11 nations who have applied for NATO membership were arguing their case during today's session. Slovenia's Foreign Minister Zoran Thaler said his country expects to be invited to join the Western alliance when a first round of expansion is announced at a July NATO summit in Madrid.

Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves told the meeting that excluding the Baltics from NATO would create a "gray zone" of insecurity between NATO and Russia. Russian President Boris Yeltsin has said that admitting the Baltics could cause Russia to opt out of its recently signed agreement with NATO.

Virtually the only European nations not invited to the first meeting were Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. However, officials from those nations, including the three members of Bosnia's collective presidency, are due to meet in Sintra later today with NATO ministers.