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Seven new nations join NATO

By
ANWAR IQBAL

WASHINGTON, March 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Monday formally inducted seven former members of the defunct Soviet Union into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Addressing the ceremony in Washington, Powell and his guests vowed to fight terrorism and defeat it the way they defeated Soviet totalitarianism.

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The seven European nations who formally joined NATO Monday are Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

They completed their full membership in the alliance by deposing instruments of accession with Powell at a lunch at the U.S. Department of Treasury.

With the depositing ceremony, "all seven nations (became) full and equal partners to the NATO," said Powell.

Accepting their accession, Powell told the new NATO members: "The threats to freedom today are ... no less ominous. We still live in a dangerous world where our enemies seek not only the death of multitudes but the death of liberty itself."

"They will not succeed, for we stand united in the global war against terrorism, a war that compels the resistance of all free peoples and must be won by free peoples together in alliance," the secretary said.

Responding to his remarks, Slovak's Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said: "As the fight against terrorism has shown, we have to be united. As allies, we should keep NATO doors open."

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He followed his expressed desire to "keep NATO doors open," by reminding his host that leaders of some other nations wanting to join the alliance were also attending the ceremony.

"Today, we want to show our ability, our solidarity. I am very, very happy that three prime ministers from the Balkan states are among us: the prime minister of Albania, prime minister of Croatia, prime minister of Macedonia," said Dzurinda, adding, "And we know that we should not forget about Serbia and Montenegro and others who join us in our commitment to shared values."

Powell, who spoke before Dzurinda, also acknowledged the presence of the prime ministers of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia, and told them, "We recognize your countries' commitment to achieve NATO membership and I can assure you that we support your aspirations and will make everything possible that we can ... for you to one day be participating in a ceremony such as this."

"To the seven heads of state here assembled, I say to you and your people: Welcome to the greatest and most successful alliance in history. Welcome," he added.

The secretary called the expansion a "historic step" forward and said that the addition of new members will bring new energy to NATO.

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With the addition of the seven new members, the NATO community grows from 19 to 26 countries. Albania, Croatia and Macedonia hope to join soon.

With this new addition, the frontiers of the 55-year-old alliance stretch to the Russian borders. Russia is not a NATO member but has accepted an invitation to attend talks at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on Friday.

Although the alliance was formed to meet the threat posed by the former Soviet Union, Powell told Russia in a speech last week not to see the expansion as a threat.

"We share the same vision of a good society and of a better world," he told the Russian.

Despite this assurance, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov warned that NATO's expansion was forcing Moscow to reassess its military strategy. Ivanov said he may order a build-up of Russia's nuclear defenses after NATO announced it would deploy aircraft to defend the airspace of the three ex-Soviet Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Asked to comment on Ivanov's statement, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington Monday that NATO's expansion was not a threat to anyone. "The NATO-Russia Council remains an important area of cooperation for all of us, and that continues to be ... fruitful in bringing stability to the continent," he said.

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And Powell told the Russians that today's NATO is different from the one that confronted the former Soviet Union. "We must not forget the past, but we must not dwell on it. ... NATO, at 26 strong, is still an open alliance, not just a military coalition but as a community of builders of a Europe whole, free and at peace," he said.

Powell also thanked the new members for supporting the U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, noting, "Each of your countries has been an active participant in this struggle (against terrorism). Your contributions in Afghanistan, in Iraq, the Balkans and elsewhere bear witness to your devotion to our common security."

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he hoped that more nations would join this 26-nation alliance to defend the values of democracy and freedom, which NATO has been defending for the last 55 years.

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