Brussels, 8 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said today he hopes and expects the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary to officially join the alliance before next April. Speaking at a news conference during the annual meeting of the alliance's foreign ministers in Brussels, Solana said the three countries will be welcomed as new members at NATO's 50th anniversary summit in Washington next April. But Solana noted that he personally hoped and expected to see them join the alliance before then.
He did not give a specific date but said that since the parliaments of all current NATO members have now ratified the three countries' entry, the process is all but complete, once the three countries have met what he called "minimum military requirements."
On European defense, Solana said the alliance considers the existing treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) to be the cornerstone of European security. That treaty sets limits on the number of non-nuclear weapons and soldiers which countries can deploy.
Solana said NATO is committed to finalizing amendments to the CFE treaty before the next summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) next November. Russia recently called on NATO to amend the treaty before its expansion.
In a communique, NATO foreign ministers called on Russia to ratify the START II nuclear arms limitation treaty without delay. They also called on Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to immediately ratify the Open Skies Treaty. The ministers also reiterated their concern at the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. To this end, they charged preparatory committees with drafting proposals for new ways to combat this potential threat, which will be discussed at the Washington summit in April.
In related NATO news, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright today urged NATO to undertake a new initiative to combat weapons of mass destruction.
She told NATO foreign ministers that the initiative is designed to help ensure the alliance can address the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
She said the United States envisages increased intelligence-sharing between alliance members, as well as the development of ways to deter use of such weapons.
Albright also said however that the U.S. does not envisage expanding NATO into a global organization.