The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, will hold its summit in November. The alliance is expected to announce at the Prague meeting which countries will be invited to join NATO. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell predicts a large expansion.
Washington, 25 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says he expects NATO to invite several countries to join the alliance at its Prague summit in November.
Powell made the comment yesterday during testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee examining American foreign policy issues. He declined to say how many countries might be invited or identify them.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) tried to press America's top diplomat, a retired general, to be more specific about NATO expansion. They had this exchange:
McConnell: "How many countries are likely to be included in the next round of [NATO] expansion?"
Powell: "Uh, Senator, nice try." [Laughter]
Powell went on to say that U.S. President George W. Bush has been focusing on this issue. He said Bush and his top national security aides have been discussing NATO expansion almost every week. Powell added, "I think it's going to be -- a very healthy number."
The secretary of state said the subject of NATO has seen what he called a "marvelous evolution" since the days when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff just over a decade ago. Powell noted that the Cold War ended and the Warsaw Pact disappeared. He said all of his Russian general friends would come to see him and ask why does the West need NATO anymore?
Powell said finally the answer became obvious: "Everybody wants to join the club. It must be doing something right."
Powell said he told the Russian generals that nobody wanted to be in the Warsaw Pact, "so the club closed." But, said Powell, NATO continued to hand out applications from all over the place "and people are filling them out left and right."
Countries that have formally expressed a desire to join NATO include Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
On 22 April, Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski was the latest representative of a candidate country to press for NATO expansion at a White House meeting with Bush. Saxecoburggotski said he and Bush discussed almost exclusively Bulgaria's efforts to join the alliance.
After the meeting, the prime minister was asked what Bush said about Bulgaria's wish to join NATO: "The president encouraged us to keep on working very hard to the very last minute, shall we say, till Prague, and I think this is what we have to do."
During his testimony before the Senate panel, Powell also said NATO seeks to forge closer ties with Russia. The alliance and Russia are expected to conclude agreement on a joint council at a summit in Rome next month. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said recently that the Russia-NATO joint council will be an independent organization able to study issues and take decisions in a number of areas.
Powell said NATO would not give Russia veto power over the alliance's decision-making process on expansion. Russia has expressed particular opposition over the possible inclusion of the three Baltic states.
But Powell said NATO and Russia have a common interest in working together on such issues as international terrorism.
He said Russia will be brought closer to what he called "the Euro-Atlantic family" without destroying the essence of NATO as a unique organization.
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said last week that the 28 May Rome summit will "turn the history of the Cold War on its head" and lead to a new and permanent relationship with Moscow.