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Eastern Europe: Czech and Polish Presidents Sign NATO Membership Documents

Prague/Warsaw, 26 February 1999 (RFE/RL) - Czech President Vaclav Havel and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski today signed accession documents to allow their countries to join NATO, the last step before the former Warsaw Pact nations formally join the Western alliance next month. Kwasniewski and Havel signed the documents in separate, simultaneous ceremonies in Warsaw and Prague. Havel said NATO membership means that security for the Czech Republic is now "finally, firmly and effectively guaranteed."

He said membership gives Czechs the hope that their country will never again be conquered by an aggressor. Havel also said membership in NATO "demonstrates our unmistakable determination to meet our share of responsibility for the freedom of nations, human rights, democratic values and peace on our continent."

Kwasniewski said: "Our desires come true, common efforts bring fruit." He added that NATO membership is not the end of Poland's effort to join pan-European structures. He said: "Today in NATO, tomorrow in the European Union. We will achieve it together."

The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are the first former East bloc nations invited to join NATO. They are to become members of the Western military alliance March 12, in Independence, Missouri where the three foreign ministers will hand ratification documents to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Hungarian President Arpad Goencz could not join his Polish and Czech colleagues during today's ceremony because he is on an official visit to Australia and New Zealand until tomorrow. He signed Hungary's accession document on Feb. 10.