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NATO: Foreign Ministers Open 2-Day Meeting

Budapest, 29 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Foreign ministers from the 19 NATO member countries today opened a two-day meeting in Budapest, Hungary. The talks are expected to focus on the crisis in Macedonia, the next wave of NATO expansion, and U.S. plans for a missile defense system. Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi has called on the session to prepare the groundwork for decisions on accepting new members into NATO.

Those decisions are expected to be made at next year's NATO summit in Prague.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is scheduled to meet separately with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. They are expected to discuss NATO enlargement and the U.S. plan for a missile defense system.

Russia opposes NATO expansion as a threat to its security. It also opposes U.S. plans for the missile system.

Moscow says the plan violates parts of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the former Soviet Union and the U.S. Russia also says such a system could trigger a new arms race.

Ministers at the meeting also are expected to discuss NATO's troop deployment in Bosnia.

Separately, NATO's Parliamentary Assembly continues a conference today in Lithuania's capital Vilnius.

Lawmakers from 19 NATO members and 16 other countries, including 10 which hope to join the alliance, began formal sessions yesterday.

They called on U.S. President George W. Bush to endorse a second round of NATO enlargement when he visits Europe next month.

Bush is expected to deliver a speech in Warsaw that could mention his views on NATO expansion.

Russia is not attending the meeting in Vilnius as it strongly opposes NATO expansion

The lawmakers at the Vilnius conference also are expected to discuss U.S. plans for a missile defense system, European security and tensions in the Balkans. The conference ends on 31 May.

The Assembly holds sessions to debate general security issues. It has an advisory role.