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NATO: Alliance Formally Welcomes Three New Members

Independence, Missouri; 12 March 1999 (RFE/RL) - The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary formally joined the NATO military alliance today in a ceremony in the U.S. Midwestern city of Independence, Missouri. Membership became official when foreign ministers Bronislaw Geremek of Poland, Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic, and Janos Martonyi of Hungary handed over ratification documents in the ceremony also attended by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The ceremony went forward despite a late winter storm that dumped snow on Independence, the hometown of the late former U.S. President Harry Truman, who was in office when the alliance was established 50 years ago. The accession ceremony was held at the Truman Library and Museum.

The three nations are the first new NATO members from what was once the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. Several other Central and East European states are also seeking membership.

Speaking at the accession ceremony, Albright said that they confirmed that Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are "fully and irrevocably within the Atlantic community," adding that they are "truly allies" and "truly home."

The Czech Republic's Kavan called accession of the three new members a "recognition of the strategic changes" that have taken place in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Hungary's Martonyi recalled that opposition to communist rule sparked revolts in Hungary in 1956, in the Czech Republic in 1968, and in the Polish shipyards of Gdansk in the 1980s. He said, therefore, all three countries "know the value of freedom."

Poland's Geremek said that the ceremony marked "the end of the bipolar world symbolized by the Iron Curtain." He said the door of the alliance must remain open to other nations and said that "another curtain must never again descend upon the continent." Geremek concluded by calling today "a great day for Poland and the world."

In a statement released earlier today in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana called the accession of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary a "triumph of justice over history."

Moscow has opposed NATO expansion for years. And the Russian Defense Ministry reiterated again today its belief that NATO's eastward enlargement is a "dangerous and historic mistake that could have serious consequences" for security in Europe.

Defense Ministry spokesman General Leonid Ivashov told a press conference in Moscow that any change in the balance of forces is a destabilizing factor. But Ivashov also vowed to continue cooperation under the NATO-Russia Founding Act, signed in 1997.

Ivashov also urged countries in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to speed up work on a new security charter for the next century.