Washington, 12 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton today made it official that the United States wants the first round of NATO expansion to be limited to only three countries - Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.
White House press secretary Mike McCurry made the announcement of Clinton's long-anticipated decision in Washington. And in his words, "The United States' position is firm."
McCurry said it is "not likely" that the U.S. position will be overruled, although NATO decisions are officially made by concensus among the Alliance's 16 member countries.
Correspondents say the decision will put the U.S. in conflict with some NATO allies that favor also including Romania and Slovenia. McCurry said those countries are, in his words, "on track" for NATO membership, but not in the first round.
The Polish government today welcomed Clinton's announcement. Antoni Styrczula, spokesman for President Aleksander Kwasniewski, said that Poland is very happy that Clinton is supporting Polish aspirations regarding NATO.
Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Szentivanyi called the announcement of the U.S. position "a major step." He said it strengthens Hungarian expectations that the NATO summit in Madrid next month will formally endorse including Hungary in the first wave of eastward expansion.
The chief foreign policy adviser to Czech President Vaclav Havel said that Prague is hopeful that "this is just the first step." Pavel Seifter told RFE/RL that the Czech people hope that other countries in the future will also be admitted to NATO.
Romania's Foreign Minister told a news conference in Bucharest today Romania does not share the U.S. point of view. Adrian Severin added that the decision to limit initial membership to three countries "does not sufficiently protect U.S. interests" in Eastern Europe.
NATO leaders meet in Madrid on July 8 and 9 to issue the first formal invitations in the Alliance's eastward expansion.