Madrid, 8 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of three Central European countries -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic -- today welcomed with "deepest satisfaction" their invitations to become members of NATO. Czech President Vaclav Havel, speaking on behalf of Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn, called the NATO invitations issued in Madrid today a historic decision paving the way to a more stable and secure Europe.
Havel read a statement on behalf of his country, Poland and Hungary to reporters at a news conference just minutes after NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana announced that the 16 NATO countries had decided to take in the three new members.
The Central European countries' statement said the move is a recognition of what the leaders called the tremendous efforts undertaken by their societies following the collapse of communism in 1989.
The leaders said they are very proud that the transformations of their political and economic systems have made them eligible for NATO membership.
Havel also said the three hope that the parliaments of the 16 NATO countries will ratify their accession in time for them to become full members by April, 1999 -- the 50th anniversary of the founding of the North Atlantic alliance.
Meanwhile, in Prague, Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus called the NATO invitation an exceptionally important step for Czech security, as well as for Prague's position in Europe and the world. Klaus said the invitation is the culmination of democratic and market reforms in Prague since 1989. He said admission negotiations would start without delay.