Madrid, 8 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - During a closed-door meeting this morning at the Madrid summit, British Prime Minister Tony Blair strongly backed U.S. President Bill Clinton's argument that NATO's eastward expansion should be limited to just three countries. And a high-level British official indicated that this position is likely to be accepted by the Madrid summit today.
The British official, who spoke to reporters on condition that he not be identified, said Blair argued at this morning's meeting of 16 NATO leaders that it would be wrong to go beyond three new former Communist members right now. The three who are widely expected to be invited later today to join the alliance are Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
The official quoted Blair as saying that inviting three -- rather than the five favored by some NATO allies -- is still a bold step, not a conservative one. The British prime minister stressed that NATO is "a military alliance, not a political club."
He warned that the parliaments in various countries might have problems ratifying the expansion if more than three countries are invited in the first wave.
The British official admitted that the United States and Britain are in a minority among NATO leaders in arguing for a limited first-wave expansion. He indicated, however, that this viewpoint will still prevail because of the "strength of feeling" by the United States and Britain.