Brussels, 17 December 1997 (RFE/RL) - Foreign ministers and other high representatives of the 44 member countries of NATO's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) met in Brussels today.
NATO Secretary General Javier Solana informed them of the results of yesterday's meetings of the North Atlantic Council and the NATO-Ukraine Commission, as well as of the signature of the Protocols of Accession for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright congratulated what she called NATO's "future allies" and reminded them that "with a first-class ticket to NATO come first-class responsibilities." She said these include encouraging and assisting other nations that want to join the Atlantic Alliance.
Turning to the partnership council, Albright called for it to become a structure that can help make fundamental decisions about Europe's future. She said: "Our emphasis is no longer on outreach, it is on outcomes. We want EAPC to be not just conversational but operational."
In a similar vein, a NATO official later told reporters that the alliance is "not a panacea for all of Europe's problems." He said that if there is to be stability in Europe activities must be promoted which are in the interest of all 44 member states of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.
At today's EAPC meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov asserted that some recent NATO exercises have not been defensive in character. A NATO official later told reporters that "there has never been a NATO exercise since 1949 that was not purely defensive." The official noted that NATO exercises since the end of the Cold War have only been a fraction of the size of those conducted in earlier years. He said Russia has been invited to participate in or observe all recent NATO exercises.
The 44 ministers today discussed ways to further intensify cooperation, praised recent attempts at setting up regional security dialogues in the Caucuses and the Balkans, and considered doing the same in the Baltic region.
They also discussed the troubled Kosovo region of Serbia, where a large majority of the population is ethnic Albanian. The ministers called for a dialogue between Kosovar Albanians and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and appealed to both sides to resolve Kosovo's status within the exisiting Yugoslav federation (Serbia and Montenegro).
The ministers also discussed closer cooperation on environmental issues, particularly the environmental consequences of defense conversion, such as cleaning up former military bases. In addition, they endorsed an action plan for the years 1998 to 2000, drafted jointly by all EAPC member states. They also endorsed a Russian initiative to establish a Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Capability, which will coordinate assistance and logistics. A NATO official said that Russia will organize an exercise on its territory next year to test the disaster-response system.
The ministers discussed as well the situation in Bosnia, where NATO has deployed a Stabilization Force (SFOR). They welcomed the approval earlier this month by NATO defense ministers of detailed political and military guidance for developing a multi-national follow-on force to SFOR beyond next June, its current expiration date.
The 44 ministers agreed to meet again in Luxembourg at the end of May.