Washington, 26 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- NATO leaders have approved a blueprint that charts the course of the military alliance well into the next century, keeps the door open to new members and calls for an enduring partnership with Russia to secure peace in an undivided Europe.
Under the strategic concept issued in a communiqu in Washington Saturday night, NATO leaders agreed to expand the alliance's focus beyond members' borders. The concept sets out a role for NATO in fighting ethnic conflicts such as Kosovo, battling terrorism and organized crime, and trying to prevent the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
It was the first time NATO overhauled its strategic concept since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
U.S. President Bill Clinton said the 50th anniversary NATO summit did important work.
Clinton said: "For five years now, we have been working to build a new NATO prepared to deal with the security challenges of the new century. Today, we have reaffirmed our readiness, in appropriate circumstances, to address regional and ethnic conflicts beyond the territory of NATO members. I am pleased that our strategic concept specifically endorses the actions, such as those are now undertaking in Kosovo."
Despite objections from Russia to expanding NATO, the leaders agreed to consider admitting additional members in the coming years. The alliance expanded to 19 countries last month with the inclusion of former East Bloc states Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
NATO said it welcomed the efforts and progress of Romania, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania toward gaining eventual membership. It also praised what it called positive developments in Bulgaria and Slovakia toward membership and thanked Macedonia and Albania for their cooperation with the alliance on Kosovo.
The communiqu said the next NATO summit is to be held no later than 2002 during which a review will be made on admitting new members.
NATO Secretary General Javier Solana also discussed with reporters the issue of NATO expansion.
Solana said: "Enlargement remains a priority for the alliance. NATO is committed to keeping its door open, following the Article X of the Washington Treaty. The three new members that have celebrated here in Washington their first meeting will not be the last. I would like to emphasize that. Today the alliance has adopted a membership action plan that will help all the nine candidate countries and others in the future to prepare more actively to meet the requirements of NATO's membership."
NATO said Russia plays a "unique role" in Euro-Atlantic security. It noted that the alliance and Russia have committed themselves to achieve lasting peace based on the principles of democracy and security.
Russia interrupted ties with the alliance when NATO began bombing Yugoslavia in March. It withdrew its mission to NATO headquarters in Brussels and told NATO representatives to leave Moscow.
NATO's communiqu said consultation and dialogue with Russia are even more important in times of crisis.
Clinton said: "Our alliance recognizes the tremendous importance of Russia to Europe's future, and we are determined to support Russia's transition to stronger democracy and more effective free markets, and to strengthen our partnership with Russia."
The communiqu also urged the Russian Duma to ratify the START II treaty without delay. The treaty, signed in 1993, would cut by up to two thirds the number of nuclear warheads the United States and Russia deploy.
The Duma has repeatedly postponed ratification, most recently because of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia.
NATO also said that Ukraine occupies a "special place" in the Euro-Atlantic security environment. It called Ukraine "an important and valuable partner in promoting stability and common democratic values."