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NATO: Foreign Ministers From West And East Meet To Discuss Security

Prague, 29 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Foreign ministers of NATO nations and their neighbors from the former Soviet bloc are in the Duchy of Luxembourg for a series of meetings on security issues.

Yesterday, ministers from 16 NATO nations and those from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland met in a regular semi-annual session of the North Atlantic Council, NATO's policy-setting body.

The NATO ministers also met with Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov in the joint NATO-Russia Council.

Today, there is a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council and a session of the North Atlantic Partnership Council in which the NATO ministers will be joined by their counterparts from 29 other countries.

All meetings focus on the nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan in which each has recently exploded five nuclear test devices, opening up a possibility of a nuclear arms race in Asia.

The NATO nations and Russia yesterday urged both sides to stop further tests and sign the non-proliferation treaty. The appeal is likely to be endorsed today by the Partnership Council.

The volatile situation in Yugoslavia provided another important topic for discussion. Among the immediate measures agreed by NATO and Russia were cooperative efforts to help Albania and Macedonia patrol their borders with the Serbian province of Kosovo and joint exercises with forces from those two Balkan countries. Russia's Primakov reiterated, however, Moscow's opposition to deployment of NATO troops into Albania and Macedonia without prior approval of the U. N. Security Council.

These issues of nuclear proliferation and tension in the Balkans overshadowed an important and novel development in the NATO procedures, namely the full participation of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council.

The three Central European nations were invited last year to join the alliance. The expect to gain full membership next year, at ceremonies marking NATO's 50th anniversary, pending ratification of their entry by all members of the alliance.

Yesterday was the first time ever that their foreign ministers were invited to take part in the regular session of the alliance's foreign ministers.

Commenting on the move, Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek told a press briefing yesterday that the invitation "gave us a clear signal that we (the Czechs, the Hungarians and the Poles) are already considered members of the NATO family..., even before becoming members of the organization itself."

Besides the main issues of the day -- proliferation and the Balkans -- the North Atlantic Council opened an initial debate on the future strategy of NATO, its new military doctrine.

U. S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright hinted in her speech to the council that the new strategy will allow for the alliance's intervention outside its traditional area of concern so as to counter the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the expansion of ethnic conflicts and other forms of international terrorism.

The outline of the new strategy will be further discussed at future NATO meetings and is likely to be accepted by the alliance at the anniversary meeting in April in Washington.