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NATO: Defense Ministers Meet Eastern, Central European Counterparts

Brussels, 13 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Defense Ministers from the 16 NATO member countries met today with their counterparts from eastern and central Europe to discuss military cooperation in NATO's Partnership for Peace Program.

The ministers met in Brussels for the first time under the new Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) set up two weeks ago at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Portugal. The EAPC includes the NATO states, members of the former Warsaw Pact, successor republics of the former Soviet Union and non-aligned Austria, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland.

During the meeting, Russia's First Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kokoshin met with NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. NATO officials tell our correspondent their talks focused on enhanced cooperation, and that Solana used the opportunity to ask about Russia's progress on dismantling battlefield (tactical) nuclear weapons.

Solana said Russia seems behind the U.S. and its western allies on dismantling the weapons, despite statements from Moscow that things were proceeding smoothly.

Meanwhile, international reaction continues to Washington's announcement yesterday that it supports only Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic for first-round membership in an expanded NATO.

Italy today renewed its support for bids by Slovenia and Romania to join NATO in the first wave. Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said in Rome that Italy believes "at least two other countries" must be included besides Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, and cited Slovenia and Romania.

In Ljubljana, Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek today said he was surprised by the U.S. decision to exclude his country from the first wave of expansion. Speaking on Slovenian radio, Drnovsek said Washington had "surprised everyone." He later told reporters in Ljubljana that Slovenia's chances for inclusion are very small but still exist.

NATO is due to extend formal invitations to a first round of candidates to join the Atlantic Alliance at its summit in Madrid next month.