Washington, 11 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A senior U.S. State Department official says a special NATO ceremony on Friday will symbolize a "coming home" to the West for the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland.
The official says that the three foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland will present their "protocols of accession" into NATO at an elegant ceremony in Independence, Missouri. The ceremony will take place at the library of former American President Harry Truman. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will host the ceremony and accept the documents on behalf of NATO.
The original NATO treaty was signed in Washington on April 4, 1949 by the foreign ministers of 12 nations: Great Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Iceland, Canada, and the U.S. Just prior to the signing of the treaty, President Truman addressed the foreign ministers and others in the auditorium.
"In this pact," he said, "we hope to create a shield against aggression and the fear of aggression -- a bulwark which will permit us to get on with the real business of government and society, the business of achieving a fuller and happier life for all of our citizens."
Truman believed that the heart of the treaty was Article 5 which reads: "The parties agree that an armed attack against one of more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them...will assist the party or parties so attacked by taking...such action as it deems necessary....to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."
The official said Albright specifically chose the Truman Library because she wanted to "recall the wonderful transatlantic vision" President Truman had 50 years ago.
The U.S. has a special role to play in the ceremonial accession of new members into NATO. As designated by the treaty, the U.S., and particularly the secretary of state, is the "depositor of the treaty," or responsible for holding and maintaining all of the NATO protocols. The 16 existing protocols are stored in the national archives in Washington.
When asked why the protocols would be presented on Friday instead of during the April NATO summit in Washington, the official said that the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland wished to have the ceremony before the April summit so that they could participate fully as members during the summit's important strategic and planning discussions. He added that it was also considered the "right and logical time" by all the parties involved.
During the ceremony, the foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland will present their protocols to Albright and then make a brief statement. According to the State Department, the moment Albright accepts the protocol, the nations are considered official members of NATO and are extended all of its military guarantees.
Albright will later inform NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana that she has the protocols safely in her possession.
Albright is also expected to make a major foreign policy address at the ceremony, focusing on the challenges that lay ahead for the NATO alliance in the 21st century. The State Department said it is likely that during her speech, Albright will re-emphasize the U.S. desire to keep the door to NATO open. But it was added that while no final decision has been made, it is the U.S. view that a "consensus is building" among NATO member states for no new invitations to be issued at the April summit.
The three foreign ministers and Albright will conclude the ceremony by signing an official document to mark the occasion.