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NATO: Stage Is Set For New Members

Independence, Missouri, 12 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The foreign ministers of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are arriving in America's heartland today poised to join NATO and determined to make a worthwhile contribution to the military alliance.

The three nations will officially become members of NATO today as soon as they present their "protocols of accession" to U.S. Secretary Madeleine Albright during a ceremony at the library of former President Harry Truman. Truman was U.S. president when the treaty was signed in April 1949.

A spokesman at the Polish Embassy in Washington told RFE/RL that the signing ceremony will be not only an important historical moment for Poles, but one that is also very symbolic.

He explained: "Joining NATO is not only a matter of membership into a prestigious organization. What it really means that Poland is finally secure after years and years of occupation and partitions by foreign countries."

He added that even after becoming a full member of NATO, Poland intends to make a significant contribution to the alliance by keeping integration policies a top priority.

The original NATO treaty was signed in Washington in an old auditorium near the White House. Before the signing, President Truman addressed the foreign ministers and others, explaining the significance of the treaty.

He said: "The nations represented here are bound together by ties of long-standing. We're joined by a common heritage of democracy, individual liberty and rule of law. These are the ties of a peaceful way of life."

Albright will host the ceremony at the Truman library. Once she accepts the protocols from the foreign ministers, the nations are immediately considered official members of NATO. Earlier this week, a senior U.S. State Department official said that Albright specifically chose the Truman Library for the upcoming ceremony in order to honor the transatlantic vision of President Truman and "welcome home to the West" the three new members.

The official explained: "These countries are coming home to the community of nations to which they, culturally, historically, spiritually, and philosophically have always belonged or wanted to belong to."

Original plans had called for the three new members to join during the April NATO summit to be held in Washington. The alliance is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

But according to the State Department, all three countries pressed hard to be members before the April summit so they could participate in discussions and planning strategies as full members. Some observers say it was likely a diplomatic decision by NATO as well, since early admittance will permit Russia to participate in the April summit without having to engage in an celebration of enlargement -- something they bitterly opposed.

The Kremlin said Thursday Russian President Boris Yeltsin remains opposed to NATO enlargement and is unlikely to attend the alliance's 50th anniversary in Washington next month.

Albright is scheduled to arrive in Missouri about 30 minutes before the signing ceremony is to begin. She will be accompanied on her aircraft by the three foreign ministers and Poland and their delegations. Several members of the U.S. Congress, as well as representatives from many Czech, Polish, and Hungarian cultural and ethnic organizations in the U.S., will also attend the ceremony.