Madrid, 9 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton said today that expansion of NATO to include three ex-communist countries will make all NATO allies stronger and more secure. During a press conference held at the conclusion of NATO's two-day summit, Clinton said extending membership to the former Warsaw Pact countries will reduce the chances of threats to NATO territory and will strengthen democracy and free market economies in the countries themselves.
Clinton was speaking the day after NATO leaders formally issued membership invitations to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
He said eastward expansion will help erase the artificial line drawn across Europe by Stalin.
Clinton welcomed the meeting today of 44 countries in Madrid -- 16 NATO allies and 28 partner countries from Central Europe to Central Asia -- to discuss cooperation and prevention of regional conflicts. He said although the 44 leaders in Madrid had different mother tongues, they all spoke "the language of democracy." He welcomed this unprecedented meeting under the NATO umbrella as proof that Europe is finally undivided, free and at peace.
Clinton also said today that he had promised Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma that he would help Ukraine secure the support of international financial institutions if the country pushes forward with economic reforms this year.
Clinton said he had congratulated Kuchma on the signing of a special agreement today between NATO and Ukraine. He said they had also discussed western aid to Ukraine to help it diversify its energy sector as part of closing the Chornobyl nuclear facility.
Clinton also praised recent moves by Kyiv and Moscow to settle long-standing disputes over the Black Sea fleet.
Clinton plans to fly directly from Madrid to Poland to discuss that country's new duties in obtaining NATO membership. He said he will also go to Bucharest to emphasize that the door is open to Romania's future membership in NATO. He said NATO and the United States want to help Romania walk through that open door "if they can stay on the path of democracy and freedom."
During the second day of the summit, NATO took another major step aimed at closing the divide between East and West. It inaugurated a new security council of nations spanning North America, Europe and former Soviet Asia.
Leaders of the alliance and 28 partners formally launched the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) today. It is an organization intended to meet the security concerns of non-NATO members.