Prague, 21 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- NATO this morning formally invited seven former Soviet-bloc countries to join the alliance in 2004, in what will be NATO's biggest expansion in its 53-year history. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson made the invitation to
Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania
at the start of a summit in Prague: "I, therefore, put it to the heads of state and government of NATO meeting here in the North Atlantic Council that we invite to accession talks with NATO the following nations: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. I take it that this is agreed. [Gavel hammers]. Thank you very much. The council has so decided [applause]."
U.S. President George W. Bush said in Prague yesterday that NATO must become an organization that does more to fight terrorism. Bush said it is essential that NATO become "structured to meet the threats from global terrorists."
"It is very important for us to recognize that in order for NATO to be relevant as we go into the future, the military capacities of NATO must be altered to meet the true threats we face. NATO must transition from an organization that was formed to meet the threats from a Warsaw Pact to a military organization structured to meet the threats from global terrorists."
NATO leaders are also expected to discuss the Iraq crisis and the possibility of a U.S.-led military intervention there. However, the U.S. has indicated it does not plan to ask for NATO's assistance in dealing with Iraq.
Reports says NATO leaders will unanimously endorse the latest UN resolution to disarm Iraq, but are unlikely to discuss any collective military action.
NATO leaders also are expected to approve a U.S. proposal for a 20,000-strong NATO Response Force. The force would combine existing high-readiness units to meet threats outside the Euro-Atlantic area.
The leaders also will pledge to strengthen their outdated militaries with so-called smart bombs, anti-germ-warfare gear, and planes to get troops and equipment to trouble spots quickly.